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I OIL I /.( '(if . h \'^lT(itrc7', 

.fi-Puja^ JJvur^u.'i^-.a.'7'7 



From ami Engraxiing after Pnios. 






i- Hi^uu 

* II faut que les §,mes pensantes se frottent Tune centre I'autre 
pour faire jaillir de la lumi^re.' 

VoLTAiEE : Letter to the Due d' XJzes^ December 4, 1751. 


Y; OF THE '^\ 








[All rights r«i«rT*d] 







I. D'Alembert : the Thinker (1717-1783) . . . 1 

II. Diderot : the Talker (1713-1784) . . ' . .32 

III. GalianT: the Wit (1728-1787) 62 

IV. Vauvbnargues : the Aphorist (1715-1747) . . 96 
V. D'Holbach: the Host (1723-1789) . . . . 118 

VI. Grimm: the Journalist (1723-1807) . . . 160 

VII. Helvetius : the Contradiction (1715-1771) . . 176 

VIII. Turgot: the Statesman (1727-1781) ... 206 

IX. Beaumarchais : the Playwright (1732-1799) . . 236 

X. CONDORCET : THE ARISTOCRAT (1743-1794) . . . 268 

Index 299 



D'Alembert Frontispiece 

From an Engraving after Pvjos. 

Diderot To face ^.32 

From an Engraving by Henriquez, after the Portrait by 

Galiani „ 62 

From a Print. 

Vauvenargues „ 96 

From a Print in the Bibliotheque Rationale, Paris. 

D'HOLBACH ,,118 

From a Portrait in the Musde Cond4, Chantilly. 

Grimm „ 150 

From an Engraving, after Carmontelle, in the Bibliothhque 
Rationale, Paris. 

HELvinus ,,176 

From an Engraving by St. Aubin, after the Portrait by 

TURGOT ,,206 

From an Engraving by Tje Beau, after the Portrait by 

Beaumarghais „ 236 

From an Engraving, after Michon, in the Bibliotltique 
Nationale^ Paris. 

CONDORCBT . . „ 268 

From an Engraving by Lemvrt, after the Bust by St. 


D'Alembert. Joseph Bertrand. 

(Buvres et Correspondance inedites. B'Alembert, 

Correspondance avec d'Alembert. Marquise du Deffand. 

Diderot and the Encyclopaedists. John Morley. 

Eloge de d'Alembert. Condorcet. 

(Euvres. Diderot. 

Diderot. Beimach. 

Diderot, THomme et rEcrivain. Ducros. 

Diderot. Scherer. 

Diderot et Catherine II. Toumewx. 

Ferdinand© Galiani, Correspondance, Etude, etc. Perrey et 

Lettres de I'Abbe Galiani. Eugene Asse. 
Memoires et Correspondance. Madame d'Epvnay. 
Jeunesse de Madame d'Epinay. Perrey et Maugras. 
Dernieres Annees de Madame d'Epinay. Perrey et Maugras. 
Memoires. Marmontel. 
Memoires. Morellet. 
Causeries du Lundi. Savnte-Beuve. 
Vauvenargues. Paleologue. 
(Euvres et ^loge de Vauvenargues. D. L. Gilbert. 
Melchior Grimm. Scherer, 
Eousseau. John Morley. 
Miscellanies. John Morley. 
Correspondance Litt^raire. Grimm et Diderot. 
Turgot. L4on Say. 
Turgot. W. B. Hodgson. 
(Euvres. Turgot. 
Vie de Turgot. Condorcet. 

Correspondance inedite de Condorcet et Turgot. C. Henry. 
La Marquise de Condorcet. Guillois. 
Vie de Condorcet. Bobinet. 


Beaumarchais et Son Temps. Lominie. 

Beaumarchais. Hallays. 

Th^&tre de Beaumarchais. 

La Fin de TAncien E^gime. Imbert de Smnt-Ama/nd. 

French Eevolution. Ca/rlyle. 

Critical Essays. Garlyle. 

Correspondance. VoUwire. 

•Portraits Litt^raires du XVIII'^ Sieele. La Ha/rpe. 

Corn's de Litterature. La Harpe. 

M^moire sm* Helvetius. Darmron. 

Le Salon de Madame Helvetius. Guillois. 

Histoire de la Philosophic Moderne. Buhle. 

Life of Hume. Burton. 

The Private Correspondence of Garrick with Celebrated Persons. 

Memoires pour servir 4 I'Histoire de la Philosophic. Damiron. 

Letters. Laurence Sterne. 




Of that vast intellectual movement which prepared 
the way for the most stupendous event in history, 
the French Kevolution, Voltaire was the creative 

Q But there was a group of men, less famous but 
not less great, who also heralded the coming of 
the new heaven and the new earth ; who were in 
a strict sense friends and fellow-workers of Voltaire, 
although one or two of them were personally little 
known to him ; whose aim was his aim, to destroy 
from among the people ' ignorance, the curse of 
God,' and who were, as he was, the prophets and 
the makers of a new dispensation 

That many of these light bringers were them- 
selves full of darkness, is true enough ; but they 
brought the light not the less, and in their own 



breasts burnt one cleansing flame, the passion for 

For the rest, they were the typical men of the 
most enthralling age in history — each with his 
human story as well as his public purpose, and his 
part to play on the glittering stage of the social 
life of old France, as well as in the great events 
which moulded her destiny and affected the fate of 

Foremost among them was d'Alembert. 

Often talked about but little known, or vaguely 
remembered only as the patient lover of Made- 
moiselle de Lespinasse, Jean Lerond d'Alembert, 
the successor of Newton, the author of the Preface 
of the Encyclopaedia, deserves an enduring fame. 

On a November evening in the year 1717, one 
hundred and eighty-nine years ago, a gendarme^ 
going his round in Paris, discovered on the steps 
of the church of Saint-Jean Lerond, once the 
baptistery of Notre-Dame, a child of a few hours 
old. The story runs that the baby was richly clad, 
and had on his small person marks which would 
lead to his identification. But the fact remains 
that he was abandoned in mid-winter, left without 
food or shelter to take his feeble chance of life and 
of the cold charity of some such institution as the 
Enfants Trouv^s. It was no thanks to the mother 


who bore him that the gendarme who found him 
had compassion on his helpless infancy. The 
man had the baby hurriedly christened after his 
first cradle, Jean Baptiste Lerond, took him to a 
working woman whom he could trust, and who 
nursed him — ^for six weeks say some authorities, 
for a few days say others — in the little village of 
Cremery near Montdidier. 

At the end of the time there returned to Paris 
a certain gallant General Destouches, who had 
been abroad in the execution of his military 
duties. He went to visit Madame de Tencin, and 
from her learnt of the birth and the abandonment 
of their son. 

No study of the eighteenth century can be 
complete without mention of the extraordinary 
women who were born with that marvellous age, 
and fortunately died with it. Cold, calculating, 
and corrupt, with the devilish cleverness of a 
Machiavelli, with the natural instinct of love used 
for gain and for trickery, and with the natural 
instinct of maternity wholly absent, d'Alembert's 
mother was the most perfect type of this monstrous 
class. Small, keen, alert, with a little sharp face 
like a bird's, brilliantly eloquent, bold, subtle, 
tireless, a great minister of intrigue, and insatiably 
ambitious — such was Madame de Tencin. It was 
she who assisted at the meetings of statesmen, and 

B 2 


gave Marshal Eichelieu a plan and a line of con- 
duct. It was she who managed the afiairs of her 
brother Cardinal de Tencin, and, through him, 
tried to effect peace between France and Frederick 
in the midst of the Seven Years' War. It was she 
who fought the hideous incompetence of Maurepas, 
the Naval Minister ; and it was she who summed 
herself up to FonteneUe when she laid her hand 
on her heart, saying, ' Here is nothing but brain.' 

From the moment of his birth she had only 
one wish with regard to her child — to be rid of 
him. A long procession of lovers had left her 
wholly incapable of shame. But the child would 
be a worry — and she did not mean to be worried ! 
If the father had better instincts — well, let him 
follow them. He did. He employed Molin, 
Madame de Tencin's doctor, to find out the baby's 
nurse, Anne Lemaire, and claim the little creature 
from her. 

The great d'Alembert told Madame Suard many 
years after how Destouches drove all round Paris 
with the baby (' with a head no bigger than an 
apple') in his arms, trying to find for him a 
suitable foster-mother. But little Jean Baptiste 
Lerond seemed to be dying, and no one would 
take him. At last, however, Destouches dis- 
covered, living in the Kue Michel-Lecomte, a poor 
glazier's wife, whose motherly soul was touched by 


the infant's piteous plight, and who took him to her 
love and care, and kept him there for fifty years. 

History has concerned itself much less with 
Madame Kousseau than with Madame de Tencin. 
Yet it was the glazier's wife who was d'Alem- 
bert's real mother after all. If she was low- 
born and ignorant, she had yet the happiest of 
all acquirements — she knew how to win love and 
to keep it. The great d'Alembert, universally 
acclaimed as one of the first intellects of Europe, 
had ever for this simple person, who defined a 
philosopher as ' a fool who torments himself during 
his life that people may talk of him when he is 
dead,' the tender reverence which true greatness, 
and only true greatness perhaps, can bear towards 
homely goodness. From her he learnt the bless- 
ing of peace and obscurity. From his association 
with her he learnt his noble idea — difficult in any 
age, but in that age of degrading luxury and self- 
indulgence well nigh impossible — that it is sinful 
to enjoy superfluities while other men want 
necessaries. His hidden life in the dark attic 
above her husband's shop made it possible for him 
to do that life's work. For nearly half a century 
he knew no other home. When he left her roof at 
last, in obedience to the voice of the most master- 
ful of all human passions, he still retained for her 
the tenderest affection, and bestowed upon her and 


her grandchildren the kindness of one or the kindest 
hearts that ever beautified a great intelligence. 

Little Jean Baptiste was put to a school in 
the Faubourg Saint- Antoine, where he passed as 
Madame Kousseau's son. General Destouches paid 
the expenses of this schooling, took a keen pleasure 
in the child's brightness and precocity, and came 
often to see him. One day he persuaded Madame 
de Tencin to accompany him. The seven-year-old 
Jean Baptiste remembered that scene all his life. 
' Confess, Madame,' says Destouches, when they 
had listened to the boy's clever answers to his 
master's questions, ' that it was a pity to abandon 
such a child.' Madame rose at once. ' Let us go. 
I see it is going to be verj^ uncomfortable for 
me here.' She never came again. 

Destouches died in 1726, when his son was 
nine years old. He left the boy twelve hundred 
livres, and commended him to the care of his 
relatives. Through them, at the age of twelve, 
Jean Baptiste received the great favour of being 
admitted to the College of the Four Nations, 
founded by Mazarin, and in 1729 the most ex- 
clusive school in France. Fortunately for its new 
scholar it was something besides fashionable, and 
did its best to satisfy his extraordinary thirst for 
knowledge. His teachers were all priests and 
Jansenists, and nourished their apt scholar on 


Jansenist literature, imbuing him with the fashion- 
able theories of Descartes. How soon was it that 
they began to hope and dream that in the gentle 
student called Lerond, living on a narrow pit- 
tance above a tradesman's shop, they had found 
a new Pascal, a mighty enemy of the Archfiend 
Jesuitism ? 

But beneath his timid and modest exterior 
there lay already an intellect of marvellous 
strength and clearness, a relentless logic that 
tested and weighed every principle instilled in 
him, every theory masquerading as a fact. He 
quickly became equally hostile to both Jesuit and 
Jansenist. It was at school that he learnt to hate 
with an undying hatred, religion — the religion 
that in forty years launched, on account of the 
Bull Unigenitus, forty thousand lettres de cachet, 
that made men forget not only their Christianity 
but their humanity, and give themselves over 
body and soul to the devouring fever called 
fanaticism. At school also he conceived his 
passion for mathematics, that love of exact truth 
which no Jansenist priest, however subtle, could 
make him regard as a dangerous error. 

When he was eighteen, in 1735, he took his 
degree of Bachelor of Arts and changed his name. 
D'Alembertis thought to be an anagram on Baptiste 
Lerond. Anaejrams were fashionable, and one 


Arouet, who had elected to be called Voltaire, had 
made such an alteration of good omen. D'Alembert 
went on studying at the College, but throughout 
his studies mathematics were wooing him from all 
other pursuits. The taste, however, was so unlu- 
crative, and the income from twelve hundred livres 
so small, that a profession became a necessity. 
The young man conscientiously qualified for a 
barrister. But ' he loved only good causes ' and 
was naturally shy. He never appeared at the Bar. 
Then he bethought him of medicine. He 
would be a doctor! But again and again the 
siren voice of his dominant taste called him 
back to her. His friends — those omniscient 
friends always ready to put a spoke in the wheel 
of genius — entreated him to be practical, to re- 
member his poverty, and to make haste to grow 
rich. He yielded to them so far that one day he 
carried all his geometrical books to one of their 
houses, and went back to the garret at Madame 
Eousseau's to study medicine and nothing else in 
the world. But the geometrical problems dis- 
turbed his sleep. 

One master-passion in the breast, 

Like Aaron's serpent, swallowed all the rest. 

Fate wanted d'Alembert, the great mathematician, 
not some prosperous, unproductive mediocrity of 
a Paris apothecary. The crowning blessing of 


life, to be born with a bias to some pursuit, was 
this man's to the full. 

He yielded to Nature and to God. He brought 
back the books he had abandoned, flung aside 
those for which he had neither taste nor aptitude, 
and at twenty gave himself to the work for which 
he had been created. 

Some artist should put on canvas the picture 
of this student, sitting in his ill-aired garret with 
its narrow prospect of ' three ells of sky,' poor, 
delicate, obscure — or rich, rather, in the purest of 
earthly enjoyments, the pursuit of truth for its 
own sake. He could not afford to buy many of 
the books he needed, so he borrowed them from 
public libraries. He left the work of the day 
anticipating with joy the work of the morrow. 
For the world he cared nothing, and of him it 
knew nothing. Fame ? — he did not want it. 
Wealth? — he could do without it. Poor as he 
was, there was no time when he even thought of 
taking pupils, or using the leisure he needed for 
study in making money by a professorship. 

To give knowledge was his work and his aim ; 
to make knowledge easier for others he left to 
some lesser man. His style had seldom the grace 
and clearness which can make, and which in many 
of his fellow-workers did make, the abstrusest 
reasoning charm like romance. D'Alembert left 


Diderot to put his thought into irresistible words, 
and Voltaire and Turgot to translate it into im- 
mortal deeds. 

When he was two-and-twenty, in 1739, d'Alem- 
bert began his connection with the Academy of 
Sciences. In 1743 he published his ' Treatise on 
Dynamics.' Now little read and long superseded, 
it placed him at one bound, and at six-and-twenty 
years old, among the first geometricians of Europe. 
Modest, frugal, retiring as he was and remained, he 
was no more only the loving and patient disciple of 
science. He was its master and teacher. In 1746 
his ' Treatise on the Theory of Winds ' gained him 
a prize in the Academy of Berlin, and first brought 
him into relationship with Frederick the Great. 

Two years later, when her son was of daily 
growing renown, Madame de Tencin died. The 
story that, when he had become famous and she 
would fain have acknowledged him, he had re- 
pudiated her, saying he had no mother but the 
glazier's wife, d'Alembert, declares Madame Suard, 
always denied. ' I should never have refused her 
endearments — it would have been too sweet to me 
to recover her.' That answer is more in keeping 
with a temperament but too gentle and forgiving, 
than the spirited repulse. It was in keeping 
also with the life of Madame de Tencin that 
even death should leave her indifferent to her 


child. She thought no more of him, he said, in 
the one than in the other. Her money she left to 
her doctor. 

If the studious poverty oi the life in the 
glazier's attic spared d'Alembert acquaintances, 
it did not deprive him of friends. 

Then living in Paris, some six-and-thirty years 
old, the author of the 'Philosophical Thoughts,' 
and the most fascinating scoundrel in France, was 
Denis Diderot. With the quiet d'Alembert, of 
morals almost austere and of hidden, frugal life, 
what could a Diderot have in common? Some- 
thing more than the attraction of opposites drew 
them together. The vehement and all-embracing 
imagination of the one iired the calm reason of the 
other. The hot head and the cool one were laid 
together, and the result was the great Encyclo- 

The first idea of the pair was modest enough — 
to translate into French the English Encyclopaedia 
of Chambers. But had not brother Voltaire said 
that no man who could make an adequate trans- 
lation ever wasted his time in translating ? They 
soon out-ran so timid an ambition. The thing 
must not only be spontaneous work ; it must 
wholly surpass all its patterns and prototypes. It 
must be not an Encyclopsedia, but the Encyclo- 
paedia. Every man of talent in France must bring 


a stone towards the building of the great Temple. 
From Switzerland, old Voltaire shall pour forth 
inspiration, encouragement, incentive. Eousseau 
shall lend it the glow of his passion, and Grimm 
his journalistic versatility. Helvetius shall contri- 
bute — d'Holbach, Turgot, Morellet, Marmontel, 
Eaynal, La Harpe, de Jaucourt, Duclos. 

And the Preliminary Discourse shall be the 
work of d'Alembert. 

An envious enemy once dismissed him scorn- 
fully as 

Chancelier de Parnasse, 

Qui se croit un grand homme et fit une preface. 

Yet if he had written nothing but that Preface 
he would still have had noble titles to fame. It 
contained, as he himself said, the quintessence of 
twenty years' study. If his style was usually cold 
and formal, it was not so now. With warmest 
eloquence and boldest brush he painted the picture 
of the progress of the human mind since the in- 
vention of printing. From the lofty heights man's 
intellect had scaled there stood out yet mightier 
heights for him to dare ! Advance ! advance ! It 
ever preface said anything, the Preface to the 
great Encyclopaedia says this. Clothed with light 
and fire, that dearest son of d'Alembert's genius 
went forth to illuminate and to astound the world. 
At first the Encyclopaedia was not only heard 


gladly by the common people, but was splendidly 
set forth with the approbation and Privilege du 
Roi. Even the wise and thoughtful melancholy of 
d'Alembert's temperament may have been cheered 
by such good fortune, while the sanguine Diderot 
naturally felt convinced it would last for ever. 

Both worked unremittingly. His authorship 
of the Preface immediately flung open to d'Alem- 
bert all the salons in Paris, and for the first time 
in his life he began to go into society. Then 
Frederick the Great made him a rich and splendid 
offer, the Presidency of the Berlin Academy. Con- 
sider that though the man was famous he was still 
very poor. The little pension which was his all 
' is hardly enough to keep me if I have the happi- 
ness or the misfortune to live to be old.' From the 
Government of his country he feared everything 
and hoped nothing. He was only thirty-five years 
of age. A new world was opened to him. The 
glazier's attic he could exchange for a palace, and 
the homely kindness of an illiterate foster-mother 
for the magnificent endearments of a philosophic 
king. Was it only the painful example of friend 
Voltaire's angry wretchedness as Frederick's guest 
that made him refuse an offer so lavish and so 
dazzling ? It was rather that he had the rare wis- 
dom to recognise happiness when he had it and did 
not mistake it for some phantom will-o'-the-wisp 


whom distance clothed with light. *The peace 
I enjoy is so perfect,' he wrote, ' I dare run 
no risk of disturbing it. ... I do not doubt the 
King's goodness . . . only that the conditions 
essential to happiness are not in his power.' 

Any man who is offered in place of quiet con- 
tent that most fleeting and unsubstantial of all 
chimeras — fame and glory — should read d'Alem- 
bert's answer to Frederick the Great. 

Frederick's royal response to it was the offer of 
a pension of twelve hundred livres. 

In September 1754 the fourth volume of the 
Encyclopaedia was hailed by the world with a 
burst of enthusiasm and applause, and in the Decem- 
ber of that year d'Alembert received as a reward for 
his indefatigable labours a chair in the French 
Academy. He had only accepted it on condition 
that he spoke his mind freely on all points and 
made court to no man. The speech with which 
he took his seat, though constantly interrupted 
with clapping and cries of delight, was not good, 
said Grimm. All d'Alembert's addresses and eloges 
spoken at the Academy leave posterity, indeed, 
as cold as they left the astute German journalist. 
The man was a mathematician, a creature of 
reason. The passion that was to rule that reason 
and dominate his Hfe was not the gaudy and 
shallow passion of the orator. 


In 1756 he went to stay with the great head of 
his party, Voltaire, at the DeHces, near Geneva. 
The Patriarch was sixty-two years old, but with 
the activity and the enthusiasm of youth. At his 
house and at his table d'Alembert met constantly 
and observed deeply the Calvinistic pastors of 
Geneva. He returned to Paris with his head 
full of the most famous article the Encyclopaedia 
was to know. At the back of his mind was a 
certain request of his host's, that he should also 
make a few remarks on the benefits that play-acting 
would confer on the Calvinistic temperament. 

No article in that 'huge folio dictionary' 
brewed so fierce a storm or had consequences so 
memorable and far-reaching as d'Alembert's article 
'Geneva.' In his reserved and formal style he 
punctiliously complimented the descendants of 
Calvin as preferring reason to faith, sound sense to 
dogma, and as having a religion which, weighed 
and tested, was nothing but a perfect Socinianism. 
Voltaire laughed long in his sleeve, and in private 
executed moral capers of delight. The few words 
on the advantages of play-acting, which he had 
begged might be added, had not been forgotten. 

The Genevan pastors took solemn and heartburn- 
ing counsel together, and on the head of the quiet 
worker in the attic in Paris there burst a hurricane 
which might have beaten down coarser natures 


and frightened stouter hearts. Calvinism fell upon 
him, whose sole crime had been to show her the 
logical outcome of her doctrines, with the fierce 
fury of a desperate cause. Ketract! retract! or 
at least give the names of those of our pastors who 
made you believe in the rationalism of our creed ! 
As for the remarks on plays, why, Jean Jacques 
Eousseau, our citizen and your brother philo- 
sopher, shall answer those, and in the dazzling 
rhetoric of the immortal 'Letter on Plays' give, 
with all the magic and enchantment of his sophist's 
genius, the case against the theatre. 

Then, on March 8, 1759, the paternal govern- 
ment of France, joining hands with Geneva, sup- 
pressed by royal edict that Encyclopaedia of which 
a very few years earlier it had solemnly approved. 
The accursed thing was burnt by the hangman. 
The printers and publishers were sent to the 
galleys or to death. The permit to continue 
pubHshing the work was rescinded. The full 
flowing fountain of knowledge was dammed, 
and the self-denial of d'Alembert's patient life 
wasted. The gentle heart, which had never 
harmed living creature, fell stricken beneath the 
torrent of filthy fury which the gutter press 
poured upon him. His Majesty — his besotted 
Majesty, King Louis the Fifteenth — finds in the 
Encyclopaedia, forsooth, ' maxims tending to de- 


stroy Eoyal authority and to establish indepen- 
dence . . . corruption of morals, irreligion, and 
unbelief.' Sycophant and toadying Paris went 
with him. Furious and blaspheming, passionate 
Diderot came out to meet the foe. Dancing with 
rage, old Voltaire at Delices could only calm him- 
self enough to hold a pen in his shaking fingers 
and pour out incentives to his brothers in Paris to 
fight till the death. To him injustice was ever the 
bugle-call to battle. But not to d'Alembert. He 
shrank back into his shell, dumb and wounded. 
' I do not know if the Encyclopedia will be con- 
tinued,' he wrote, ' but I am sure it will not 
be continued by me.' Even the stirring incite- 
ments of his chief could not alter his purpose. 
He had offered sight to the blind, and they had 
chosen darkness ; he would bring them the light 
no more. That Diderot considered him traitor 
and apostate did not move him. He would not 
quarrel with that affectionate, hot-headed brother 
worker, but for himself that chapter of his life was 
finished, and he turned the page. 

In the very same year he gave to a thankless 
world his ' Elements of Philosophy ; ' and he again 
refused Frederick the Great's invitation to ex- 
change persecuting Paris for the Presidency of the 
Berlin Academy. But there was no reason why 



he should not escape from his troubles for a time 
and become Frederick's visitor. 

In 1762 he went to Berlin for two months, and 
found the great King a clever, generous, and 
devoted friend. But though he continued to beg 
d'Alembert to stay with him permanently, and 
was lavish of gifts and promises, the wise and 
judicious visitor was wholly proof against the 
royal blandishments. In the same year he refused 
a yet more dazzling offer — to be tutor to Catherine 
the Great's son. He had already in Paris, not 
only ties, which might be broken, but a tie, which 
he found indissoluble. 

In 1765, three years after Catherine's offer had 
been made and declined, d'Alembert, when he was 
forty-eight years old, was attacked by a severe 
illness, which, said his accommodating doctor, 
required larger and airier rooms than those 
in his good old nurse's home. He was moved 
from the famihar Eue Michel-Lecomte to the 
Boulevard du Temple. There Mademoiselle de 
Lespinasse joined him and nursed him back to 

In all the story of d'Alembert's life, in that 
age of unbridled licence, no woman's name is con- 
nected with his save this one's. Fifteen years 
earlier he had made the acquaintance of Madame 
du Deffand. To the blind old worldling, who 


loved Horace Walpole and wrote immortal letters, 
he stood in the nature of a dear and promising 
son. For many years he was always about her 
house. His wit and his charm, seasoned by a 
gentle spice of irony and a delightful talent for 
telling stories and enjoying them himself, naturally 
endeared him to the old woman whose one hell 
was boredom. On his side, he came because he 
liked her, and stayed because he loved Mademoi- 
selle de Lespinasse. The history of that menage^ 
of the brilliant, impulsive, undisciplined girl, with 
her plain face and her matchless charm, and of the 
blind old woman she tended, deceived, and out- 
witted, has been told in fiction as well as in his- 
tory. How when Madame du Deffand was asleep, 
her poor companion held for herself reunions of 
the bright, particular stars of her mistress's firma- 
ment, and how the old woman, rising a little too 
early one day, came into the room and with her 
sightless eyes saw all, is one of the famihar anec- 
dotes of literature. 

Long before this dramatic denouement^ d'Alem- 
bert and Julie de Lespinasse had been something 
more than friends. But now Mademoiselle saw 
herself cast adrift on the world. She flung to it 
her reputation, and yielded, not so much to the en- 
treaties of d'Alembert's love, as to the more pitiful 
pleading his solitude and sickness made to the 

c 2 


warm maternity in her woman's heart. She nursed 
him back to convalescence, and then lived beneath 
the same roof with him in the Eue Belle Chasse. 

Picture the man with his wide, wise intelli- 
gence and his diffident and gentle nature, and the 
woman with her brilliant intuition and her quick, 
glowing impulse. To his exact logic she could 
add feeling, passion, sympathy ; his frigid and 
awkward style she could endow with life and fire. 
Many of his manuscripts are covered with her 
handwriting. Some, she certainly inspired. She 
had read widely and felt keenly, and her lover had 
weighed, pondered, considered. For him, who had 
for himself no ambition, she could dare and hope 
all. The perpetual Secretaryship of the Academy 
shall be turned from a dream to a fact ! In that 
age of women's influence no woman had in her frail 
hands more to give and to withhold than this poor 
companion, whose marvellous power over men and 
destinies lay not in her head, but in her heart. 
The true complement of a d'Alembert, daring where 
he was timid, fervent where he was cold, a woman's 
feeling to quicken his man's reason — here should 
have been indeed the marriage of true minds. 

Oh, I must feel your brain prompt mine, 
Your heart anticipate my heart. 
You must be just before, in fine. 
See and make me see, for your part, 
New depths of the divine ! 


Yet d'Alembert's is the most piteous love-story 
in history. If Mademoiselle had yielded to his 
sadness and his loneliness, she had never loved 
him. Only a year after she had joined him, 
d'Alembert, alluding to some rumours which had 
been afloat concerning their marriage, wrote bit- 
terly, ' What should /do with a wife and children ? ' 
But there was only one real obstacle to their 
union. Across Mademoiselle's undisciplined heart 
there lay already the shadows of another passion. 

From the first the household in the Kue 
Belle Chasse had been absolutely dominated by 
the woman. ' In love, who loves least, rules.' 
D'Alembert was in bondage while she was free. 
To keep her, he submitted to humours full of 
bitterness and sharpness — the caprices of that in- 
different affection which gives nothing and exacts 
all. In her hands, he was as a child ; his philo- 
sophies went to the winds ; his very reason was 
prostrate. How soon was it he began to guess he 
had a rival in her heart ? 

It was not till after her death that he found 
out for certain that less than two years after she 
came to him she had given herself, body and soul, 
to the young Marquis de Mora. But what he 
did not know, he must have greatly suspected. 
It was he who wrote her letters and ran her 
errands. Grimm recorded in the ' Literary 


Correspondence ' the prodigious ascendency she 
had acquired over all his thoughts and actions. 
' No luckless Savoyard of Paris . . . does so many 
wearisome commissions as the first geometrician 
of Europe, the chief of the Encyclopa3dic sect, the 
dictator of our Academies, does for Mademoiselle.' 
He would post her fervent outpourings to the man 
who had supplanted him, and call for the replies 
at the post-office that she might receive them an 
hour or two earlier. What wonder that over such 
a character, a nature like Mademoiselle's rode 
roughshod, that she hurt and bruised him a hun- 
dred times a day, and wounded while she despised 
him ? No woman ever truly loves a man who does 
not exact from her not only complete fidelity to 
himself, but fidelity to all that is best and highest 
in her own nature. 

D'Alembert had indeed in full measure the 
virtue of his defects. If it was a crime to be tender 
to her sins, it was nobihty to be gentle to her 
sufferings. He bore and forbore with her end- 
lessly. Always patient and good-humoured, think- 
ing greatly of her and httle of himself, abundant 
in compassion for her ruined nerves and the 
querulous feverishness of her ill health — here 
surely were some of the noble traits of a good 
love. He read to her, watched by her, tended her, 
and in the matchless society they gathered round 


them was abundantly content to be nothing, that 
she might be all. 

Their life together in the Eue Belle Chase 
had not in the least shocked their easy-going 
world. Many persons comfortably maintained 
that their association was the merest friendship — 
heedless of that amply proven fact that where 
people avoid evil, they avoid also the appearance 
of evil. The eighteenth century, indeed, even if 
it saw any difference between vice and virtue, 
which is doubtful, did not in the least mind if its 
favourites were vicious or virtuous, provided they 
were not dull. D'Alembert and Mademoiselle de 
Lespinasse did not fall under that ban. The her- 
mit life the man had led was over for ever. In her 
modest room in that dingy street, Mademoiselle 
held every night the most famous salon in Paris. 

Most of the salons may be exhaustively de- 
scribed as having been nourished on a little eau 
Sucre and a great deal of wit. But to this one wit 
alone was light, food, and air. Mademoiselle did 
not require to give dinners like Madame Necker, 
or suppers like Madame du Deffand ; neither for 
the beauty which, later, was to make men for- 
give the mental limitations of Madame Eecamier, 
had she need or use. Tall, pale, and slender, 
with her infinite, unconscious tact, her mental 
grace, and her divine sympathy, her passage 


^^ough the social life of her age has left the 

'Abtle perfume of some delicate flower. To be her 

i^end was to feel complete, understood, satisfied. 

fc her, as to a sister of consolation, came 

fcndorcet, marquis, mathematician, philosopher; 

-^fent-Pierre, the pupil of Eousseau and the creator 

^' ' Paul and Virginia ; ' La Harpe, whom she 

'^vS to help to the Academy ; Henault, whom she 

hd charmed from Madame du DefFand ; Turgot, 

'^astellux, Marmontel. And quietly effacing 

himself, with that true greatness which is never 

;4?aid to be made of little account, was Mademoi- 

if^fte's lover and the noblest intellect of them all, 


There is no more delightful trait in his charac- 
ter than this exquisite talent for modesty. With 
his spare form always dressed from head to foot 
in clothes of one colour, the aim of d'Alembert 
was both physically and mentally, as it were, to 
escape notice. True, when he talked, the listener 
must needs marvel at the breadth, the variety, the 
exhaustless interests of the mind, and its perfect 
simplicity and straightforwardness. But he did 
not want to talk much. He liked better to listen. 
He preferred in society, as he preferred in life, 
to think while other men said and did. 

No social pleasures could either supersede the 
work of his life, or make compensation for the 


sorrows of his soul. He had already thrown i 
his lot with Mademoiselle when he published th 
most daring of all his books, ' The History of th 
Destruction of the Jesuits.' Her treachery hfhi 
shattered his life for five years, when he a.ske< 
Frederick the Great for a sum of money Ts^hic 
would enable him to travel and heal his broke 
health and heart. In 1770, with young Condorc 
for his companion, he left Paris for Italy, stoppc 
at Ferney, and spent his whole leave of abfsenr 
with Voltaire. 

It was an oasis in the desert of the feveri 
existence to which he had condemned himself, 
mighty speculation, in splendid visions of 
future of the race, in passionate argument on the 
immortality of the soul and the being and nature 
of God, he forgot his personal sorrows. The mind 
dominated and the heart was still. What nights 
the three must have spent together — Voltaire with 
his octogenarian's intellect as keen and bright as a 
boy's, the young Marquis, sharp-set to learn, and 
d'Alembert with his 'just mind and inexhaustible 
imagination' — when they could get rid of that 
babbling inconsequence, Voltaire's niece, Madame 
Denis, and sit hour after hour discussing, planning, 
dreaming ! The quiet d'Alembert went, as quiet 
people often do, far beyond his impulsive and out- 
spoken companions in speculative daring. Though 


there is not an anti- Christian line in any of his 
pubHshed writings except his correspondence, yet 
the scepticism of this gentle mathematician far 
exceeded that of him who is accounted the Prince 
of Unbelievers, and where his host was a hotly 
convinced Deist, d'Alembert only thought the 
probabilities in favour of Theism, and was far more 
Voltairian than Voltaire. It was the old Pontiff of 
the Church of Anti- Christ who stopped a conver- 
sation at his table wherein d'Alembert had spoken 
of the very existence of God as a moot point, by 
sending the servants out of the room, and then 
turning to his guests with — ' And now, gentlemen, 
continue your attack upon God. But as I do not 
want to be murdered or robbed to-night by my 
servants, they had better not hear you.' 

The visit lasted in all two months. D'Alem- 
bert abandoned the Italian journey, offered King 
Frederick his change, and returned to Paris. 

In 1772 he was made Perpetual Secretary of 
the French Academy. He, whose needs, said 
Grimm, were always the measure of his ambitions, 
had scaled heights, not beyond his deserts, but 
beyond his wishes. He was also a member of the 
scientific Academies of Prussia, Eussia, Portugal, 
Naples, Turin, Norway, Padua, and of the literary 
academies of Sweden and Bologna. But if ' the end 
of all ambition is to be happy at home,' d'Alembert 


had failed. When the Perpetual Secretaryship 
was still a new and dazzling possession, the Per- 
petual Secretary found at home the woman to 
whom he was captive soul and body, in the throes 
of another passion. False to de Mora, as she had 
been false to him, she was then writing to de 
Guibert those love-letters which have given her 
a place beside Sappho and Elo'isa and have added 
a classic to literature. It was d'Alembert's part 
to listen to self-reproaches whose justice he might 
well guess, to look into the depths of a tenderness 
in which he had no share. Once he gave her his 
portrait with these lines beneath it : 

Et dites quelquefois en voyant cette image 

De tous ceux que j'aimai, qui m'aima comme lui ? 

She herself said that of all the feelings she had 
inspired, his alone had not brought her wretched- 

In 1775 de Guibert was married. The mar- 
riage was Mademoiselle's death-blow. The fever 
of the soul became a disease of the body. Some- 
times bitterly repentant and sometimes only cap- 
tious and difficult ; now, her true self full of 
tenderness and charm ; and now, reckless, selfish, 
despairing — d'Alembert's patience and goodness 
were inexhaustible. True to his character, he 
stood aside that to the last her friends might visit 


her, that to the last she might help and feel for 

But though the spirit still triumphed at 
moments over the body, the end was near. When 
her misery was dulled by opium, d'Alembert was 
always watching, unheeded, at her bedside. It 
was the attitude of his life. When she became 
conscious, he was there still. Before she died, 
she asked his pardon; but de Guibert's was the 
last name upon her lips. She died on May 23, 
1776, not yet forty-five years old. 

D'Alembert's grief seems to have taken by 
surprise many short-sighted friends who had sup- 
posed that quiet exterior to hide a cold, or an 
unawakened, heart. He was utterly crushed and 
broken. His life had lost at once its inspiration 
and its meaning. For the sake of Mademoiselle 
he had grown old without family and without 
hope. His friends, in that age of noble friend- 
ships, did their best to comfort him. But his 
wounds were deeper than they knew. With a 
super-refinement of selfishness or cruelty. Made- 
moiselle had left him her Correspondence. She 
had not preserved in it one single line of the many 
letters he had himself written to her, while it 
contained full and certain proofs of her double 

He who has lost only those of whose faith and 


truth he is sure, has not yet reached the depth of 
human desolation. 

After a while, d'Alembert tried to return to 
his first affection — that cold but faithful mistress, 
his mathematical studies. At the Academy he 
pronounced the eloge of Louis de Sacy, who had 
been the lover of the Marquise de Lambert. For 
the first time he looked into his heart and wrote, 
and thus for the first time he touched the hearts 
of others ; the cold style took fire, and beneath the 
clumsy periods welled tears. 

But the writer was consumed to the soul with 
grief and weariness. This was not the man who 
could use sorrow as a spur to new endeavour and 
to nobler work. Before the persecutions which 
had assailed the Encyclopaedia he had bowed his 
head and taken covert, and the death of his mis- 
tress broke not only his heart, but his spirit and 
his life. From Madame Marmontel and from 
Thomas, he derived, it is said, some sort of com- 
fort : Condorcet was as a son ; but with Made- 
moiselle's death the light of her society had gone 
out. The friends who remained were but pale 
stars in a dark sky. DAlembert was growing 
old. He suffered from a cruel disease and could 
not face the horrors of the operation which might 
have relieved it. ' Those are fortunate who have 
courage,' said he ; ' for myself, I have none.' 


It was life, not death, he dreaded. What use then 
to suffer only to prolong suffering ? 

The mental enlightenment he had given the 
world, the wider knowledge which he had lived 
to impart, consoled this dying thinker scarcely at 
all. He was to his last hour what he had been 
when Mademoiselle took ill-fated compassion on 
his dependence and loneliness — a child, affection- 
ate, solitary, tractable, with the great mind always 
weighed down by the supersensitiveness of a child's 
heart and with a child's clinging need of care and 
tenderness. He died on October 29, 1783. 

The man whose only reason for dreading 
poverty had been lest he should be forced to 
reduce his charities, left, as might have been 
expected, a very small fortune. Condorcet was 
his residuary legatee, and made his eloge in both 
the Academies. 

Diderot himself was dying when he heard of 
his old friend's death. ' A great light has gone 
out,' said he. Euler, d'Alembert's brother, and 
sometimes his rival, geometrician, survived him 
only a few months. And Voltaire, the quick and 
life-giving spirit of the vast movement of which 
d'Alembert was the Logic, the Eeason, the 
Thought, had already died to earth, though he 
lived to everlasting fame. 

D'Alembert owes his greatest reputation to 


geometry. But, as Grimm said, in that depart- 
ment only geometricians can exactly render him 
his due : ' He added to the discoveries of the Eulers 
. . . and. the Newtons.' To the general public 
his great title to glory lies in the mighty help he 
gave to that great monument of Voltairian philo- 
sophy, the Encyclopaedia. The Preface was 'a 
work for which he had no model.' By it, he in- 
troduced to the world that book which Diderot 
produced, and which, except the Bible and the 
Koran, may be justly said to have been the most 
influential book in history ; which gave France, 
and, through France, Europe, that new light and 
knowledge which brought with them a nobler 
civilisation and a recognition of the universal 
rights of man. 

In himself, d'Alembert was always rather a 
great intelligence than a great character. To the 
magnificence of the one he owed all that has made 
him immortal, and to the weakness of the other the 
sorrows and the failures of his life. For it is by 
character and not by intellect the world is won. 




Some hundred and eighty odd years ago, in a little 
town in France, a wild boy slipped out of his room 
at midnight, and crept downstairs in his stocking- 
feet with the wicked intent of running away to 
Paris. This time-honoured escapade was defeated 
by the appearance of Master Denis's resolute 
father with the household keys in his hand. 
' Where are you going ? ' says he. ' To Paris, to 
join the Jesuits.' ' Certainly ; I will take you 
there myself to-morrow.' And Denis retires tamely 
and ignominiously to bed. 

The next morning the good old father (a 
master-cutler in the town of Langres) escorted his 
scapegrace to the capital, as he had desired, 
entered him at Harcourt College, stayed himself 
for a fortnight at a neighbouring inn to see that 
the boy adhered to his intentions ; and then went 
home. The adventure was redeemed from the 
commonplace in that this scapegrace would fain 
have run away, not from school, but to it ; and 

";nM!:!li:i"ii"''tli|! ''llWfiilllitIi 

From an Engraving by Henriquez, after the Portrait by Vavloo. 


that he was acting under an influence much more 
powerful than the cheap, adventurous fiction which 
generally prompts such schemes. When he was 
twelve years old the Jesuits had tonsured Denis's 
hot head, and no doubt designed all it contained 
for their service. 

At the college Denis spent his time in learning 
a great deal for himself, and doing, with brilliant 
ease and the most complete good-nature, a great 
deal of work of his school-fellows. He was 
himself astoundingly clever and astoundingly 
careless. He learnt mathematics, which could not 
make him exact, Latin, and English. With that 
charming readiness to do the stupid boys' lessons 
for them {blanchir les chiffons des autres, the 
talent came to be called when he grew older), 
with his inimitable love of life, his jolly, happy- 
go-lucky disposition, his open hand and heart, 
and his merry face, this should surely have been 
the most popular schoolboy that ever lived. 

One of his friends was Bernis — to be poet. 
Cardinal, and protege of Madame de Pompadour — 
and the pair would dine together at six sous a 
head at a neighbouring restaurant. 

The schooldays were all too short. The 
practical master- cutler at Langres soon inti- 
mated to Denis that it was time to choose a 
profession. But Denis declines to be a doctor, 



because he has no turn for murder ; or a lawyer, 
because he has no taste for doing other people's 
business. In brief, he does not want to be any- 
thing. He wants to learn, to study, to look round 
him. But a shrewd old tradesman is not going 
to give, even if he could afford to give, any son of 
his the money to do that. Denis had at home 
a younger brother, who was to be a priest (' that 
cursed saint,' the graceless Denis called him 
hereafter), a sister, good and sensible like her 
father, and a mother, who was tender and foolish 
over her truant boy, after the fashion of mothers 
all the world over. Here were three mouths to 
feed. Denis loved his father with all the im- 
petuous affection of his temperament. He was 
delighted when, some years later, he went back to 
Langres and a fellow-townsman grasped him by 
the arm saying : ' M. Diderot, you are a good man, 
but if you think you will ever be as good a man 
as your father, you are much mistaken.' But 
Diderot had never the sort of affection that con- 
sists in doing one's utmost for the object of the 
affection. He preferred to be a care and a 
trouble to his family and to live by his wits, 
harum-scarum, merry, and poor. He chose that 
life, and abided by the choice for ten years. 

Three times in that period the old servant of 
the family tramped all the way from Langres to 


Paris with little stores of money hidden in her 
dress for this dear, naughty scapegrace of a 
Master Denis; but except for this, he lived on 
his wits in the most literal sense of the term. 
He made catalogues and translations; he wrote 
sermons and thought himself well paid at fifty 
eats the homily; he became a tutor — until the 
pupil's stupidity bored him, when he threw up 
the situation and went hungry to bed. He once 
indeed so far commanded himself as to remain in 
this capacity for three months. Then he sought 
his employer; he could endure it no more. 'I 
am making men of your children, perhaps; but 
they are fast making a child of me. I am only 
too well off and comfortable in your house, but 
I must leave it.' And he left. 

One Shrove Tuesday he fainted from hunger 
in his wretched lodgings, and was restored and fed 
by his landlady. He took a vow that day, and 
kept it, that, if he had anything to give, he would 
never refuse a man in need. By the next morning 
he was as light-hearted as usual again. A bright 
idea, even the recollection of a few apt lines from 
Horace, would always restore his cheerfulness. 
He enjoyed indeed all the blessings of a sanguine 
nature, and fell into all its faults. The facts that 
his father was paying his debts, that often he had 
to sponge on his friends for a dinner, or trick a 

D 2 


tradesman for an advantage he could not buy, 
neither troubled him nor made him work. It is 
no doubt to his credit that he never stooped, as 
he might easily have done, to be the literary 
parasite of some great man, to prostitute his 
talents to praise and fawn on some ignoble patron. 
But though that gay, profligate existence has been 
often made to sound romantic on paper, it was 
squalid and shabby enough in reality, with that 
shabbiness which is of the soul. 

In the year 1743, when Diderot was thirty 
years old, he must needs fall in love. He was 
lodging with a poor woman and her daughter who 
kept themselves by doing fine needlework. Anne 
Toinette Champion (Nanette, Diderot called her) 
was not only exquisitely fresh and pretty, but she 
was good, simple, and honest. To gain access to 
her Diderot stooped to one of the tricks to which 
his life had made him used. He pretended that 
he was going to enter a Jesuit seminary, and 
employed Nanette to make him the necessary 
outfit. His mouth of gold did the rest. No one, 
perhaps, who did not live with Diderot and hear 
him talk ' as never man talked,' who did not know 
him in the flesh and fall under the personal 
influence of his magnetic and all-compeUing 
charm, will ever fully understand it. ' Utterly 
unclean, scandalous, shameless' as many honest 


and upright people knew him to be, he fascinated 
them all. Something indeed of that fascination 
still lingers about him, as the scent of a flower 
may cling to a coarse, stained parchment. Eead 
the facts of his life, as briefly and coldly stated 
in some biographical dictionary, and most men 
will easily dismiss him as a great genius and a 
great scoundrel. Eead the thousand anecdotes 
that have gathered about his name, of the love 
his contemporaries bore him, of his generosity, his 
glowing affections, his passionate pity for sorrow, 
and his hot zeal for humanity, and it is easy to 
understand not only the mighty part Diderot 
played in the great movement which prepared men 
for freedom and the French Eevolution, but also 
his insistent claims on their love and forgiveness. 

A little seamstress could not, in the nature of 
things, resist him long. The hopeful lover went 
to Langres to obtain his father's consent to his 
marriage, which was of course refused. At the 
date of his wedding, November 6, 1743, Denis 
had published scarcely anything, had no certain 
sources of income, and very few uncertain ones. 
He was, moreover, at first so jealous of his dearest 
Nanette that he made her give up her trade of 
needlework, as it brought her too much into 
contact with the outer world. The pair lived on 
her mother's savings; and then Denis translated 


a history of Greece from the English, and kept the 
wolf from the door a little longer. 

Poverty fell, as ever, more hardly on the wife 
than on the husband. The ever popular Diderot 
was often asked out to dine with his friends, and 
always went ; while at home Nanette feasted on 
dry bread, to be sure that this fine lover of hers 
should be able to have his cup of coffee and his 
game of chess at the cafe of the Eegency as usual. 
Of course Denis took advantage of her talent for 
self-sacrifice. His writings contain much senti- 
mental pity, expressed in the most beautiful 
language, for the condition and the physical disad- 
vantages of women ; and he spoke of himself most 
comfortably as a good husband and father, and 
honestly believed that he was both. But he began 
to neglect his wife directly his first passion for 
her was spent. She was not perfect, it is true. Of 
a certain rigidity in her goodness, and a certain 
bourgeois narrowness in her view of life, she may 
be justly accused. But it remains undeniable that 
she was thrifty and unselfish at home, while her 
husband was profligate and self-indulgent abroad, 
that she saved and worked for her children, while 
he wrote fine pages on paternal devotion, and that 
he never gave her the consideration and forbear- 
ance he demanded /r^m her as a matter of course. 
Before her first child was born the poor girl had 


lost her mother, and had no one in all the world to 
depend on but that most untrustworthy creature 
on earth, a genius of bad character. 

In the year 1745 Denis sent her to Langres for 
a long visit to his parents, to effect if possible a 
reconciliation with them. 

The man who called himself ' the apologist of 
strong passions,' who thought marriage ' a senseless 
vow,' and ' was always very near to the position 
that there is no such thing as an absolute rule of 
right and wrong,' would not be likely to be faith- 
ful. He was not faithful. There soon loomed 
on the scene a Madame Puisieux (the wife of a 
barrister), aged about five- and-twenty, charming, 
accomplished, dissolute. Diderot plunged head- 
long into love with her, as he plunged headlong 
into everything. To be sure, she was abominably 
extravagant and always wanting money. To 
gratify her demands Diderot wrote, most charac- 
teristically, an ' Essay on Merit and Virtue,' and 
brought Merit and Virtue the sum he received in 
payment. But Madame's love of fine clothes was 
insatiable. Between a Good Friday and Easter 
Day her lover composed for her the ' Philosophical 
Thoughts,' which first made him famous, which 
were paid the compliment of burning, and for 
which his mistress received fifty louis. 

The history of the inspiration of masterpieces 


would afford a peculiarly interesting insight into 
human nature. It may be set down to the credit 
of Madame Puisieux (history knows of nothing 
else to her credit) that her rapacity at least forced 
this incorrigible ne'er-do-weel upon his destiny, 
and first turned Diderot, the most deUghtful scamp 
in the capital, into Diderot the hard-working 
philosopher and man of genius. 

Nanette came home presently, having earned 
the love and admiration of the little family at 
Langres, and put up with Madame Puisieux as 
best she could. Other children were born to her, 
and died ; only one, little Angelique, survived. Of 
the quantity of Diderot's love for this child there 
is no doubt ; it is only the quality that is ques- 
tionable. Self-indulgent to himself, he was weakly 
indulgent to her. She was apt at learning, so, 
when they both felt inclined, he taught her music 
and history. Later, when she was ill, he wrote 
letters about her full of ardent affection ; but he 
left her mother to nurse her and went off gaily to 
amuse himself with his friends, and then took great 
credit for having given 'orders which marked 
attention and interest ' in her, before he went out 
and dined with Grimm under the trees in the 

Of course Angelique loved the lively good- 
natured father much the better of the two. Of 


her mother the daughter herself said afterwards, 
with a sad truth, that she would have had a 
happier life if she could have cared less for her 

However, Denis was working now, and working 
meant, or should mean, ease and competence. 

The ' Philosophical Thoughts ' had made men 
turn and look at him. True, their audacious 
freedom was not pleasing to the government ; but 
what did a Diderot care for that? His ideas 
rolled off his pen as the words rolled off his 
tongue. ' I do not compose, I am no author,' he 
wrote once. ' I read, or I converse. I ask ques- 
tions, or I give answ^ers.' The lines should be 
placed as a motto over each of his works. That 
they are literally true accounts for all his defects 
as a writer, and for all his charm. 

In 1749 he happened to be talking about a cer- 
tain famous operation for cataract, and afterwards 
wrote down his reflections on it. To a man born 
blind, atheism, said Diderot, is surely a natural 
religion. He sent his ' Letter on the Blind for the 
Use of Those Who See ' to the great chief of the 
party of which his ' Philosophical Thoughts ' had 
proclaimed himself a member. Voltaire replied 
that, for his part, if he were blind, he should have 
recognised a great InteUigence who provided so 
many substitutes for sight; and the friendship 


between Arouet and Denis was started with a 


On July 24, 1749, Diderot found himself 
a prisoner in the fortress of Yincennes. He 
was not wholly surprised. No literary man was 
astonished at being imprisoned in those days. 
Diderot was perfectly aware that since the publi- 
cation of the 'Philosophical Thoughts' he had 
been suspect of the police ; he was also aware that 
his ' Letter on the Blind ' contained a sneer on the 
subject of a fine lady, the chere amie of d'Argenson, 
the War Minister. For company he had ' Para- 
dise Lost' and his own buoyant temperament. 
He made a pen out of a toothpick, and ink out of 
the slate scraped from the side of his window, 
mixed with wine; and with characteristic good- 
nature wrote down this simple recipe for writing 
materials on the wall of his cell for the benefit of 
future sufierers. 

Better than all, he was the friend of Voltaire, 
and Voltaire's Madame du Chatelet was a near 
relative of the governor of Vincennes. After 
twenty-one days of wire-pulUng, Socrates Diderot, 
as Madame du Chatelet called him, was removed, 
as the fruit of her efforts, from the fortress to the 
castle of Vincennes, put on parole, allowed the 
society of his wife and children, with pen, ink, 
and books to his heart's content. One day 


Madame Puisieux came to see him — in attire too 
magnificent to be entirely for the benefit of a 
poor dog of a prisoner like myself, thinks Denis. 
That night he climbed over the high wall of the 
enceinte of the castle, and finding her, as he had 
expected, amusing herself with another admirer 
at Sifete, renounced her as easily and hotly as he 
had fallen in love with her. He had one far more 
famous visitor in Vincennes, Jean Jacques Eous- 
seau. As they walked together in the wood of 
Vincennes, Denis, with his overrunning fecundity 
of idea, suggested to Jean Jacques, it is said, the 
matter for that essay, sometimes called the ' Essay 
against Civilisation,' which first made him famous. 

When his imprisonment had lasted three 
months Diderot, at the angry urging of the book- 
sellers of Paris, was released. 

In 1745 one of those booksellers, Le Breton, 
had suggested to him ' the scheme of a book that 
should be all books.' Enterprising England had 
been first in the field. To Francis Bacon belongs 
the honour of having originated the idea of an 
Encyclopaedia. Chambers, an Englishman, first 
worked out that idea. It was a French trans- 
lation of Chambers that Le Breton took to Diderot, 
and it was Diderot who breathed upon it the 
breath of life. 

That this knavish bookseller's choice should 


have fallen out of all men upon him, might 
have inclined even so whole-hearted a sceptic as 
Denis himself to believe in an Intelligence behind 
the world. He was hungry and poor, and 
must have work that would bring him bread. 
There were indeed thousands of persons in that 
position; but out of those thousands there was 
only one with the hot, sanguine courage to under- 
take so risky a scheme, with the ' fiery patience ' 
to work it in the face of overwhelming odds, and 
with the exuberant genius to make it the mighty 
masterpiece it became. 

Diderot saw its possibilities at once. In 
another second, as it were, he saw all he could 
himself do, and all he could not do. He could 
write about most things. He could study the 
trades and industries of France, if it took him 
thirty years of labour, of which the mere thought 
would daunt most men; by giving their history 
he could glorify for ever those peaceful arts which 
make a nation truly great and happy. He could 
write on Gallantry, on Genius, on Libraries, on 
Anagrams. For his fertile spirit scarcely any 
subject was too great or too small. Against in- 
tolerance he could bring to bear ' the concentrated 
energy of a profound conviction.' Eeligion itself 
he could attack in so far as it interfered with 
men's liberty; and miracle he must attack, 


because, in the words of Voltaire, ' Men will not 
cease to be persecutors till they have ceased to be 
absurd.' If he had, just to appease the authori- 
ties, and to give the book a chance of a hearing, 
to truckle here and there to prejudice and super- 
stition, well, Diderot could lie as heartily and as 
cheerfully as he did all things. 

But the inexact schoolboy of Harcourt College 
was no mathematician, and knew his limitations. 
With the freemasonry of genius he saw in a single 
flashing glance that d'Alembert was the man to 
share with him the parentage of this wonderful 
child. He stormed the calm savant in his attic 
above the glazier's shop, overwhelmed, prayed, 
pressed, bewitched him, and with ' his soul in his 
eyes and his lips ' woke in d'Alembert's quiet 
breast an enthusiasm which was at least some 
reflex of his own. 

For three years the two worked night and day 
at the preliminaries of their scheme. In 1750 
Diderot poured out, with the warmth and glow of 
a woman in love, the Prospectus and Plan of his 
work. The overwhelmingness of his enthusiasm 
had forced a privilege for it from the authorities. 
Also in 1750 appeared d'Alembert's Preface, and 
the first volume was launched on the world. 

From this time until 1765 the history of 
Diderot and of the Encyclopaedia is the same thing. 


For fifteen years he worked at it unremittingly 
through storm and sunshine. The idea possessed 
and dominated him. In a garret on the fifth floor 
in his lodging in the Eue Taranne, wrapped in 
an old dressing-gown, with wild hair, bare neck, 
and bent back, the message he must deliver 
through the Encyclopaedia bubbled into his heart 
and went straight from his heart to his pen. 

' This thing will surely produce a great revo- 
lution in the human mind,' he said of it in passion- 
ate exultation : ' We shall have served humanity.' 
For this Diderot, who disbelieved so loudly and 
truculently in God, believed hopefully in the im- 
provement of human kind, and had for the race 
so vast and so generous a pity that he sacrificed 
to it the coarse pleasures his coarse nature loved, 
his time, his peace, his worldly advancement, his 
safety, and his friend. 

In 1762 a Eoyal Edict of matchless imbecility 
suppressed the first two volumes of the book, at 
the same time begging its promoters to continue 
to bring out others! Every year a volume ap- 
peared until 1757. The success of the thing was 
prodigious, and with reason, for it said what, so 
far, men had only dared to think. It gave the 
history, quite innocently, of the taxes — of gabelle, 
of taille, of corvee — and they stood 'damned to 
everlasting fame ; ' it showed the infamous abuses 


of the game-laws ; it manifested the miracles of 
science. As by a magnet the genius of Diderot 
had drawn to him, as contributors, all the genius 
of France ; while always at his side, co-editing, 
restraining his imprudence, yet working as he 
worked himself, was d'Alembert. 

And then, in 1759, came the great suspen- 
sion. D'Alembert had written his famous article 
' Geneva,' and that mad emotionalist, Jean Jacques 
Eousseau, in the most famous treachery in the 
history of literature, turned on the philosophic 
party in his Letter to d'Alembert 'On Plays.' 
The authorities of France united with insulted 
Calvinism and with Eousseau, and declared the 
Encyclopsedia accursed and forbidden. That 
would have been bad enough; but there was 
yet one thing worse. Beaten down by storm and 
insult, d'Alembert fell back from the fray and left 
Diderot to fight the battle alone. 

He started up in a second, raging and cursing, 
and went out with his life in his hand. Seizing 
his pen, he slashed, hewed, hacked, with that 
reckless weapon on every side. Yincennes and 
the Bastille loomed ominously ; he was never sure 
one day, says his daughter, of being allowed to 
continue the next ; but he went on. The authori- 
ties might burn, but they could not destroy ; they 
might prohibit, but they could not daunt a Diderot. 


In 1764, despite galleys and bonfires, kings, 
ministers, and lettres de cachet, the last ten volumes 
were ready to appear in a single issue and to 
crown his life's labour, when fate struck him a 
last crushing blow. When the manuscript of the 
articles had been burnt he discovered that the false 
Le Breton, fearing for his own safety, had cut out 
all such passages as he thought might endanger it ; 
and had thus mutilated and ruined the ten volumes 
past recall. 

Diderot burst, literally, into tears of rage. 
Despair and frenzy seized him. Was this to be 
the end ? Not while he had breath in his body ! 
He attacked Le Breton with an unclean fury not 
often matched, and in 1765 the volumes appeared, 
as whole as his talent and energy could make 
them. It was Diderot who said that if he must 
choose between Eacine, bad husband, father, 
and friend, but sublime poet; and Eacine, good 
husband, father, and friend, but dull ordinary 
man, he would choose the first. ' Of the wicked 
Eacine, what remains ? Nothing. Of Eacine, the 
man of genius ? The work is eternal.' When one 
considers his Herculean labours for the Encyclo- 
paedia, one is almost tempted to judge him as he 
judged Eacine. 

All the time, too, he was busy in many other 
ways. There has surely never been such a good- 


natured man of letters. The study door in the 
attic was open not only to all his friends, but 
to all the Grub Street vagrants and parasites 
of Paris. Diderot purified his friend d'Hol- 
bach's German-French and profusely helped his 
dearest Grimm in the ' Literary Correspondence ; ' 
he corrected proofs for Helvetius, Eaynal, and 
Galiani, gave lessons in metaphysics to a German 
princess, and was, for himself, not only an encyclo- 
paedist, but a novelist, an art-critic, and a play- 
wright. He also wrote dedicatory epistles for needy 
musicians, ' reconciled brothers, settled lawsuits, 
solicited pensions.' He planned a comedy for an 
unsuccessful dramatic author, and, in roars of 
laughter, indited an advertisement of a hair-wash 
to oblige an illiterate hairdresser. The story has 
been told often, but still bears telling afresh, of 
the young man who came to him with a personal 
satire against Diderot himself. ' I thought,' says 
the satirist, ' you would give me a few crowns to 
suppress it.' ' I can do better for you than that,' 
says Diderot, not in the least annoyed. ' Dedicate 
it to the brother of the Duke of Orleans, who 
hates me; take it to him and he will give you 
assistance.' ' But I do not know the Prince.' ' Sit 
down, and I will write the dedication for 3^ou.' 
He did, and so ably, that the satirist obtained a 
handsome sum. 



Another day he composed for the benefit of a 
woman, who had been deserted by the Due de la 
Vrilliere, a most touching appeal to the Duke's 
feelings. ' While I lived in the light of your love, 
I did not ask your pity. But of all your passion 
there only remains to me your portrait — and that 
I must sell to-morrow for bread.' The Duke sent 
her fifty louis. 

It is hardly necessary to say that Diderot's 
friends availed themselves as freely of his purse as 
of his brains. In return for his mighty expendi- 
ture of time, talent, and energy for the Encyclo- 
pedia he never received more than the princely 
sum of one hundred and thirty pounds a year. As 
he was the sort of person who always took a 
carriage if he wanted one, who had a pretty taste 
in miniatures and ohjets d'art which he found it 
positively imperative to gratify, as he loved high 
play and always lost — as, in brief, he could never 
deny himself or anybody else anything — it was 
physically impossible he should ever be solvent. 

One graceless hanger-on turned back as he was 
leaving him one day. ' M. Diderot, do you know 
any natural history?' 'Well,' says Diderot, 
< enough to tell a pigeon from a humming-bird.' 
' Have you ever heard of the Formica leo ? It is a 
very busy little creature ; it burrows a hole in the 
earth like a funnel, covers the surface with a fine 


sand, attracts a number of stupid insects to it, 
takes them, sucks them dry, and says, " M. Diderot, 
I have the honour to wish you a very good morn- 
ing." ' It may be said of Diderot that he could 
love, but not respect ; and that is the inevitable 
attitude one takes towards himself. 

In 1755, during his work at the Encyclopgedia 
and for those innumerable idle persons who had 
much better have worked for themselves, poor 
Nanette went on a second fatal visit to Langres 
and gave her husband the opportunity of falling 
in love with Mademoiselle Volland, and starting 
a memorable correspondence. 

Sophie Volland was a rather elderly young 
lady, with spectacles, and a good deal of real 
cleverness and erudition. Whether Diderot, who 
was now a man of forty-two, was ever literally in 
love with her, or whether he was ' less than lover 
but more than friend,' remains uncertain. His 
letters to her are warmly interesting, frank, 
natural, spontaneous, with many passages of ex- 
quisite beauty and thoughtfulness. There is but 
one fault — that fatal fault without which Diderot 
would not have been Diderot at all but some 
loftier man — his irrepressible indecency. 

He had much to tell Mademoiselle. The words 
seem to trip over each other in his anxiety to 
show her all he had done and felt. He was now 

B 2 


famous. The Encyclopasdia had thrown open to 
him, cutler's son though he was, the doors of the 
salons \ a great quarrel he had with Eousseau in 
1757 — the dingy details of which there is neither 
interest nor profit in recalling — made him the 
talk of the cafes. 

But this loud, explosive Denis was scarcely a 
social light. He said himself that he only liked 
company in which he could say anything. And 
what Diderot meant by anytJiing was considered 
indecorous even in that freest of all free-spoken 
ages. Good old Madame Geoffrin lost her patience 
with him, not only for his licence, but for talking 
so movingly about duty and neglecting all his 
own. She was not going to ignore his Mademoiselle 
VoUand. She treated him ' like a beast,' he said, 
and advised his wife to do the same. As for 
Madame Necker — 'qui raffole de moi,' said the 
complacent Denis himself — she too 'judged great 
men by their conduct and not by their talents,' 
which was very awkward indeed for a Diderot. 

There was a third house where he visited much 
more often and got on much better ; but that was 
not because Madame d'Epinay was its mistress, 
but because Grimm was its presiding genius. His 
friendship with the cool German had a senti- 
mentality and a demonstrativeness which English- 
men find hard to forgive, but which were sincere 


enough not the less. Grimm took complete con- 
trol of his impulsive, generous colleague. Because 
Grimm bade him, Denis began in 1759 writing his 
'Salons,' or criticisms on pictures, and became 
'the first critic in France who made criticism 
eloquent;' while, when Grimm was away, almost 
all the work of the 'Literary Correspondence' 
fell on Diderot's too good-natured shoulders. 
When his dearest friend was not there, Diderot's 
steps turned much less often towards Madame 
d'Epinay's house. 

In 1759 he first spent an autumn at the only 
place at which he was perfectly at home, and 
where he soon became a regular visitor. 

Baron d'Holbach was first of all 'an atheist, 
and not ashamed ; ' but he was also very rich, 
very liberal, very hospitable, with a charming 
country house at Grandval, near Charenton, where 
he entertained the free-thinkers of all nations, and 
where his table was equally celebrated for its cook 
and its conversation. The former was so good 
that Denis was always over-eating himself; and 
the latter was, in a moral sense, so bad that he 
enjoyed it to the utmost. 

The Grandval household was fettered by none 
of the tiresome rules which are apt to make visit- 
ing, when one has passed the easily adaptable 
season of youth, a hazardous experiment. The 


hostess 'fulfilled no duties and exacted none.' 
The visitors were as free as in their own homes. 
Diderot would get up at six, take a cup of tea, 
fling open the windows to admit the air and sun- 
shine, and then fall to work. At two came dinner. 
The house was always full of people who met now 
for the first time. In that free style, glowing with 
life and colour, Diderot recorded to Mademoiselle 
Volland the Eabelaisian conversation which made 
these dinners so long, and, to him, so delightful. 
He reported to her verbatim the amazing liberty 
of speech which distinguished them, just as he 
reported to her in minutest detail the indigestions 
for which the too excellent cook was responsible. 

The unbridled talk of d'Holbach's mother-in- 
law continually set the table in a roar. Diderot 
himself was at his best — full of bonhomie and joie- 
de-vivre — laughing one minute and crying the next, 
warm in generous pity for sorrow, quick to be 
irritated or appeased, pouring out torrents of 
splendid ideas and then of grossest ribaldry, his 
mouth speaking always from the fulness of his 
heart, utterly indiscreet, brilliant, ingenuous, de- 
lightful; an orator 'drunk with the exuberance 
of his own verbosity,' who could argue that black 
was white, and then that white was black again, 
and whose seduction and danger lay in the fact 
that he always fully believed both impossibilities 


himself. No subject that was started found him 
cool or neutral. 'He is too hot an oven,' said 
Voltaire; ' everything gets burnt in him/ 

When the dinner was over he would thrust his 
arm through his host's and walk in the garden 
with him. He at least did his best to imbue the 
dogmatic atheism of d'Holbach with luxuriance 
and warmth. At seven they came back to the 
house, and supper was followed by picquet and 
by talk till they went to bed. 

Among many other visitors whom Diderot met 
while he was what he called 'veuf at Grandval 
were at least four Englishmen — Sterne, Wilkes, 
Garrick, and Hume. 

Diderot has been well called the most English 
of the Frenchmen of the eighteenth century. He 
began his literary career by making translations 
from our language. In a passion of admiration he 
had fallen at the feet of the ' divine Eichardson,' 
and imitated 'Pamela' in a very bad novel of 
his own, ' The Nun ; ' in another, ' Jacques, the 
Fatalist,' he tried to accustom France to romance 
in the style of Sterne. He had taught his fellow- 
citizens, he said, to read and to esteem Bacon. He 
was familiar with the works of Pope, Chaucer, 
Tillotson, and Locke ; and he has left a noble and 
famous criticism upon Shakespeare: 'He is like 
the St. Christopher of Notre-Dame, an unshapen 


Colossus, rudely carven, but beneath whose legs 
we can all walk without our brows touching 

To Garrick, Diderot paid exaggerated homage, 
and went into raptures over the wonderful play of 
his face. He admired Wilkes's morals as well as 
his mind, and in 1768 wrote him a flattering letter. 
As for Hume, he liked the delightful Diderot better 
than any other philosopher he met in France. It 
is Diderot who tells the story of Hume saying at 
d'Holbach's table, ' I do not believe there is such 
a thing as an atheist ; I have never seen one,' and of 
d'Holbach's replying, ' Then you have been a little 
unfortunate ; you are sitting now with seventeen.' 
Sterne, whose ' Tristram Shandy ' was delighting 
France in general and Diderot in particular when 
its author was at Grandval, on his return home 
sent Denis English books. 

In 1761 Diderot produced a play. ' The Father 
of the Family ' is, it must be confessed, a sad bore 
with his lachrymose moralities ; but he is exhila- 
rating compared to ' The Natural Son,' Diderot's 
second play, which was acted in 1771. The uni- 
versal Denis was no playwright. 

In 1772 he published the ten volumes of plates 
which he had laboriously prepared to supplement 
the text of the Encyclopasdia ; and in May 1773, 
when he was sixty years old, he visited Catherine 
the Great. 


He had had relations with her for some years. 
One fine day, in 1765, it had suddenly occurred 
to him that his dearest Angelique, over whom he 
had poured such streams of paternal sentiment, 
would have positively no dot. Her fond, impro- 
vident father had, of course, never attempted to 
save anything for her, and, if he knew his own 
disposition, must have known too he never would 
save anything. The only thing he had of value 
in the w^orld, besides his head, was his library. 
Catherine the Great was a magnificent patron of 
letters ; and Diderot was her especial protege. He 
would sell his books to her ! She delightedly 
accepted the offer. She gave him for them a 
sum equal to about seven hundred pounds, and 
appointed him her librarian at a salary of a 
thousand livres a year, fifty years' payment being 
made in advance. 

For the first time in his history Diderot found 
himself rich. When a patron so munificent asked 
him to visit her, how could he decline ? All the 
Encyclopgedists were her warm admirers ; she 
herself used to say modestly that Yoltaire had 
made her the fashion. Denis hated long journeys 
and loved Paris, but go he must. He left France 
on May 10, 1773. He stopped at The Hague— 
where he characteristically admired the beauty of 
the women, and the turbot — and at last arrived at 
St. Petersburg. 


For a monarch who complained that she might 
have been the head of Medusa — everyone turned 
to stone when she entered the room — Diderot 
must have been a singularly refreshing guest. 
It was one of the most charming traits in his 
character that he respected persons no more than 
a child does, or a dog. All etiquette fled before 
his breezy, impulsive personality. The very 
clothes he arrived in were so shabby, her Majesty 
had to present him immediately with a court suit. 
He was with her every afternoon. He said what 
he liked, and as much as he liked, which was a 
very great deal. In the heat and excitement of 
his arguments he would hammer the Imperial 
knees black and blue, till the Empress had to put 
a table in front of her for safety. If he ever did 
recollect her august position, ' Allons ! ' she would 
cry ; ' between men everything is permissible.' He 
evolved the most magnificent, impossible schemes 
for the government of her empire — which would 
have upset it in a week if she had tried them, said 
she. During his stay, his dearest Grimm was also 
a guest. In March 1774, Denis left ; and by the 
time he reached Paris again, was persuaded that 
he had enjoyed himself very much indeed. 

Four years later, in 1778, he first saw in the 
flesh the great elder brother of his order, the 
master-worker in the temple slowly lifting its 


gorgeous towers towards the light — Voltaire. They 
had not always agreed on paper : their goal had 
been the same, but not the road to it. ' But we 
are not so far apart,' says old Voltaire ; ' we only 
want a conversation to understand each other/ 
Accordingly, when he came on his last triumph 
to the capital, Diderot went to see him in the 
Villettes' house on what is now the Quai Voltaire. 
Few details of their interviews have been pre- 
served ; but it is said that they discussed Shake- 
speare, and that when Diderot left, Voltaire said 
of him : ' He is clever, but he lacks one very 
necessary talent — that of dialogue.' On his part, 
Diderot compared Voltaire to a haunted castle 
falling into ruins — 'but one can easily see it is 
still inhabited by a magician.' 

Voltaire died. Diderot was himself growing 
old ; he had acquired, he thought in Eussia, the 
seeds of a lung disease. Angelique married a 
M. de Vandeul, on the strength of the dot pro- 
vided by the sale of the library. Madame Diderot, 
poor soul, had become not a little worried and 
embittered. It is the careless who make the care 
worn, and Diderot was almost to the last the 
engaging, light-hearted scamp whose troubles are 
always flung on to some patient scapegoat. 

In 1783, or 1784, the death of Mademoiselle 
VoUand gave him a real grief. Twenty years before 


lie had written to her with an exquisite eloquence 
of the calm and gentle approach of the great rest, 
Death : ' One longs for the end of life as, after 
hard toil, one longs for the end of the day.' He 
proved in himself the truth of his own words. 
He had not even a hope of the immortality of the 
soul ; but he had worked hard, the evening was 
come, and he was weary. He was still working — 
writing the ' Life of Seneca.' He was still his all 
too lovable, spontaneous self, talking with that 
marvellous inspiration of which the best of his 
books can convey little idea. 

A fortnight before he died he moved into a 
new home, given him by Catherine the Great, in 
the Eue Eichelieu, opposite the birthplace of 
Moliere and almost next door to the house where 
Voltaire had lived with Madame du Chatelet, and 
after her death. The cure of Saint- Sulpice came 
to see him, and suggested that a retractation of 
his sceptical opinions would produce good effect. 
' I dare say it would,' said Denis, ' but it would 
be a most impudent lie.' In his last conversation 
Madame de Vandeul records that she heard him 
say : ' The first step towards philosophy is un- 

The end came very suddenly. On the last day 
of July 1784, he was supping with his wife and 
daughter, and at dessert took an apricot. Nanette 


gently remonstrated. 'Mais que diable de mal 
veux-tu que cela me fasse ? ' he cried. They were 
his last words and perfectly characteristic. He 
died as he sat, a few minutes later. 

If to be great means to be good, then Denis 
Diderot was a little man. But if to be great means 
to do great things in the teeth of great obstacles, 
then none can refuse him a place in the temple of 
the Immortals. 

His fiction, taken from rottenness, has returned 
to it, and is justly dead. His plays were damned 
on their appearance. His moving criticisms on 
art and the drama, his satirical dialogue, ' Eameau's 
Nephew ' — nearly all the printed talk of this most 
matchless of all talkers — are rarely read. His 
letters to Mademoiselle Yolland will last so long as 
the proper study of mankind is man. But it is as 
the father of the Encyclopaedia that Denis Diderot 
merits eternal recognition. Guilty as he was in 
almost every relation of life towards the individual, 
for mankind, in the teeth of danger and of infi- 
delity, at the ill-paid sacrifice of the best years of 
his exuberant life, he produced that book which 
first levelled a free path to knowledge and enfran- 
chised the soul of his generation. 



' How can you say I do not know Galiani ? ' wrote 
Voltaire to Madame d'fipinay. ' I have read him ; 
therefore I have seen him.' 

Of that Brotherhood of Progress, united by a 
love, sometimes for each other and always for man- 
kind, if Voltaire was the leader, and d'Alembert the 
thinker, Galiani was certainly the wit. In his own 
day he was celebrated as the man who made Paris 
laugh — and ponder — by his famous ' Dialogues on 
Corn ; ' and in our day he is remembered as the 
gay little buffoon of the eighteenth century and the 
author of a most amusing correspondence. Voltaire 
went on to declare the Abbe must be as much like 
his Dialogues as two jets of fire are like each 
other ; and Diderot swore that if he had written 
a word of the book, he must have written it 
exactly as it was. 

Light, sparkUng, irresponsible, like the bril- 
liant babble of some precocious child, not in the 

a!y^l^ — ' 

From a Print. 

I ^'^ The "r^ 


least hampered by respect for the convenances^ as 
quick and flashing as sunshine on diamonds, as 
bubbling and spontaneous as a dancing little 
mountain torrent, perfectly free from the bitter- 
ness, the malignity, and the sarcasm which make 
Voltaire's jests so terrible — the talk and the writ- 
ing of Galiani are alike unique. The ' dear little 
Abbe ' of the women, with his dwarfs figure and 
his great head, his crafty Italian brain to conceive 
a brilliant scheme and his easy flow of wit to pre- 
sent it to his world, stands out alone against the 
horizon of the eighteenth century. 

Ferdinand Galiani first saw the light at Chieti, 
in Abruzzo, on December 2, 1728. He was born 
with a silver spoon in his mouth, in two senses 
at least. His father was Eoyal Auditor in one 
of the provinces of the Neapolitan Government; 
and his uncle was Monseigneur Celestin Galiani, 
first chaplain to the King of Naples, and a most 
wealthy, learned, and enlightened churchman. 

Little Ferdinand was eight when he was sent to 
be educated, with his elder brother, Bernard, under 
this uncle's supervision at Naples. For a time the 
two children were taught at the convent of the 
Celestins, as Monseigneur was in Eome, nego- 
tiating a peace on behalf of the King of the Two 
Sicilies. When he returned, he took the boys 
back to his own palace and gave them the best 


and the most delightful of all forms of learning, the 
society of clever people. The visitors soon recog- 
nised that the way to the uncle's heart was through 
the precocious brain of the little nephew — that to 
teach Ferdinand was to delight Monseigneur. 
Whatever brother Bernard may have been, 
Ferdinand was surely the aptest and sharpest of 
infant prodigies. He heard discussed around him 
antiquarianism, history, literature, commerce ; and 
not one seed of information fell on barren ground. 
Many years after Grimm declared that there was 
only one man in Paris who really knew Latin, 
and he was the Abbe Galiani. 

He was still a mere boy when he represented 
Bernard at a meeting of the Academy of Naples 
and read an article on the Immaculate Conception. 
The worthy Academicians, naturally shocked at 
such a little creature attempting a subject so 
serious, forbade him to read it. 'Very well,' 
thinks young Ferdinand, ' I can wait.' The exe- 
cutioner of Naples died soon after. The Academy 
was famous for its eloges funebres. And behold, 
there appears, in wicked and most unmistakable 
travesty of the Academical funeral orations, the 
eloge of the executioner ! The Academy was very 
indignant, the world very much amused, and 
Galiani had made his bow to the public in the 
role he was never to relinquish. He confessed all 


to the First Minister, Tanucci. Tanucci intro- 
duced him to the King and Queen of Naples, who 
were delighted, and then appeased the Academy 
by condemning the delinquent to ten days' spiritual 
exercises in a neighbouring convent. 

At sixteen the boy was already an ardent Poli- 
tical Economist. As England was the country 
where that science was brought to perfection, 
he learnt English, translated Locke's 'Essay on 
Money,' and set to work to write one himself. 
All the time he was studying diligently the ancient 
navigation, peoples, and commerce of the Mediter- 
ranean, throwing off a satire here, a mocking set 
of verses there, and cultivating that pretty talent 
for epigram and story-telling. 

When ' Money ' was finished, he read it to 
Monseigneur, without mentioning its authorship. 
' Why do not yoii give your mind to serious works 
such as that ? ' said the King's chaplain, and 
praised the thing extravagantly. When Galiani 
told his secret, Monseigneur was so delighted that 
he at once set to work at Court to procure this 
promising nephew something really worth having. 
At two-and -twenty years old, having never studied 
theology and having taken minor orders only, and 
with the sole object of obtaining these emoluments, 
Galiani found himself the possessor of the benefice 
of Centola and the abbey of Saint-Laurent, while 


a dispensation from Eome gave him the title of 
Monseigneur and the honour of the mitre. Soon 
after, the admiring Court of Naples also presented 
him with the rich abbey of Saint Catherine of 

The wonder is, not that Galiani writhed with 
laughter (like the little Punchinello his friends 
dubbed him) when he alluded to the religion of 
his fathers, but that to the end of his days he saw 
in that religion, beneath its shameless venality and 
its hideous moral corruptions, some saving truth 
to bless and comfort man's soul. When all Paris 
laughed at the credulity of Madame Geoffrin, whose 
death was said to have been brought about from 
over-devotion to her religious duties, it was Galiani 
who wrote that he considered that unbelief was 
' the greatest effort the mind of man could make 
against his natural instincts and wishes. ... As 
the soul grows old, belief reappears.' Unlike 
nearly all his philosophic friends, if his own illu- 
sions were few, he was careful to leave undisturbed 
those of happier people. 

In respect to the emoluments he received from 
Eome, and on which he fattened all his life, it may 
be justly said that he took them as a man takes a 
fortune out of a business he knows to be rotten, 
congratulating himself on his own perspicacity, 
and believing that beneath the rottenness there 


still lies the making of a true and honest enter- 

The Neapolitan Government having adopted 
all the ideas suggested in ' Money,' the fortunate 
young gentleman who had written it started off 
in excellent spirits, in November 1751, for Eome, 
Florence, and Venice. The Pope, and all the 
grandees, savants^ and litterateurs in Italy petted 
and made much of the agreeable little prodigy. 

In June 1753 his uncle, Celestin, died, leaving 
Ferdinand his fortune. Galiani still remained in 
Naples, the spirit and the delight of the brilliant 
society that Monseigneur had gathered about him. 
But there was never any time in his life when it 
was enough for this wit to be wit only. He said 
of himself that he had all the vices, and his friends 
declared he had all the tastes. The friends were 
right. He soon began to make a collection of the 
stones thrown up by Vesuvius, classified them, 
wrote a beautiful dissertation on them, and sent 
them to the Pope with the inscription. Holy Father, 
command that these stones he made bread. Benedict 
the Fourteenth was a comfortable person who 
loved a joke and thought it worth its reward. 
He replied by giving the little Abb^ yet another 
benefice, Amalfi, worth three hundred ducats. 
Then, of course, the Geological Academy of 
Herculaneum must do something more for such a 

It 2 

'<^ OF THE J 



lively geologist than merely make him a member 
of its body : it presented him with a pension. 

In 1758 this spoilt child of fortune had the 
honour of composing Pope Benedict's funeral 
oration. Then he was made Chancellor to the 
King, and, in 1759, Secretary to the Embassy in 

It was the turning-point of his life, and the 
greatest event of his history. But for that 
appointment, he might have been nothing, after 
all, but some brilliant little local light, with his 
sparkling Southern talents only employed for the 
advantage of Italy and certainly never heard of 
beyond her borders. To it he owed all his fame 
and the gayest and most successful epoch in his 
existence. To it the world owes its picture of the 
man himself, the ' Dialogues on Corn,' and the 
Correspondence with Madame d'fipinay. 

Galiani was at first pleased to go. But he was 
thirty years old, and had never yet been out of his 
own country. She had done generously by him, 
and he was extremely rich. On the other hand, 
the secretaryship involved further large emolu- 
ments, and Galiani was not one of those rare, wise 
people who know how easy it is to be rich enough ; 
he had not learned from the possession of money 
how very little it can buy. Paris was then not 
only the capital of France, but the social capital of 


the world. She was at the height of her ancient 
glory. Ee volutions had not shattered her splendid 
buildings or the delicate fabric of the most easy, 
polished, accomplished society under heaven. She 
was the finishing school of Europe. Her language 
was the language of many Courts, of Frederick 
of Prussia, and of the letters of Catherine the 
Great. From her printing presses she poured 
forth, almost daily, masterpieces of literature, or 
pamphlets which were to change dynasties and 
shake kingdoms. On her throne sat Louis the 
Fifteenth, as rotten as the society of which he was 
the head, but, like that society, with a rottenness 
covered by a magnificence which awed investiga- 
tion into silence. Choiseul was the minister in 
name, and Madame de Pompadour in reality ; and 
over the salons^ then in the height of their power 
and distinction, presided women ' who in the de- 
cline of their beauty revealed the dawn of their 

Such a world should have pleased Galiani, or 
any happy Southerner who loved to bask in the 
warmth of prosperity and shrug his shoulders at 
the possibility of future disaster. But at first it 
did not. He was cold and homesick. His health, 
he wrote, would certainly not survive the unequal 
chmate. Foreign customs, bad air, detestable 
water, everything here is noxious to my Italian 


temperament ! Then Choiseul received the petted 
wit of the Neapohtan parties coldly, nonchalantly, 
indifferently. And Versailles — Versailles was yet 
more objectionable. When Galiani was presented 
there in June 1760. with his four-and-a-half- 
foot figure overladen with the ridiculous gala 
dress of the period, the men burst into open 
laughter and the women sneered behind their fans. 
Why should that cruel age, which had no com- 
passion on the helplessness of little children, on 
poverty, on misfortune, on weakness, and which, 
when it did not mock at moral suffering, fled from 
it as from a disease one might catch — why should 
such an age pity the sensibilities of a deformed 
little foreigner, an absurd dwarf of an abbe, whom 
no one in Paris (which is to say the world) had 
ever heard of before ? 

Galiani was more than a match for the 
laughers. ' Sire,' he said to the King, ' you now 
see only a sample of the secretary ; the secretary 
will arrive later.' The King was delighted ; but 
the secretary retired with that cruel laughter 
ringing in his heart. For a whole year he 
pleaded passionately for his recall. He wrote 
bitterly of the French as ' a mobile and super- 
ficial race full at once of passion and lightness. 
. . . My clothes, my character, my way of 
thinking, and all my natural defects will always 


make me insupportable to this people and to 

From being the most popular and successful 
man in Naples, he was in Paris the insignificant 
secretary at whom, as he passed by, men mocked 
with the tongue in the cheek. They did not 
indeed mock for ever. His own sharp tongue was 
bound to win him respect and reputation. First 
it was a jest uttered here ; and then a story, with 
his own inimitable gesticulation, told there. This 
little secretary is going to be amusing ! Further, 
he was always accompanied by his dme damnee^ 
the most intelligent of monkeys, who was only 
something less entertaining than his master. The 
master, moreover, could play on the clavecin, and 
sing to it, wonderfully. Even for the Parisians 
of that day his conversation was free, naif, un- 
hampered. The man has ideas, as we all have, on 
the liberty of the Press and the Masses, on the 
Deluge that is coming after us ; only he can put 
those ideas so that the expression reads like a 
romance or sounds like a jest ! 

Then he was introduced to Baron Gleichen, 
and to Grimm, the first journalist in Europe. 
Grimm made him known to Madame d'Epinay ; 
and his acquaintance with her, with Madame 
Necker, with Madame Geoffrin, and with Made- 
moiselle de Lespinasse, implied an introduction to 


the society of all witty Paris, and of all travelling 
England. He became the friend of d'Alembert, 
who had just published his ' Elements of Philo- 
sophy,' of Diderot, of d'Holbach, of Helvetius, of 
Morellet, and of Marmontel. He met that magni- 
ficent icicle, Saint Lambert, still writing his 
' Seasons ' and stealing Madame d'Houdetot from 
Eousseau. He knew Suard, Thomas, Eaynal, and 
that picturesque and ill-fated young Spaniard, the 
Marquis de Mora. 

In a word, by 1760, Galiani was launched — 
the gayest little skiff that ever danced into a 
summer sea. The Parisian climate improved in 
the twinkling of an eye ; the bad water became 
drinkable ; the light and fickle people turned into 
one ' loving and worthy to be loved.' Some fool 
of a wit, who had declared that the Abbe would 
never succeed at Court because he thought too 
loud and spoke too low, must needs eat his words. 
However low he spoke now, the audience always 
heard. They expected a hon mot or a naivete, 
every time he opened his mouth, and he did 
not disappoint them. Instead of a poor little 
dwarf from that God-forsaken Naples, the secre- 
tary became 'the prettiest little Harlequin Italy 
has produced,' ' the incomparable Abbe,' ^ the 
head of Machiavelli,' ' Machiavellino,' ' ce drole de 
Napolitain,' ' Plato, with the verve and gestures 


of Harlequin.' In a word, lie was the mode. The 
women raved about him — he understood them so 
well ! — and fought among each other for his pre- 
sence at their parties. If Choiseul remained cold, 
his Duchess — * the gentlest, amiablest, civil little 
creature that ever came out of a fairy egg,' 
said Horace Walpole — was as fond of her Abbe 
as were her society sisters. Galiani was asked 
everywhere and went everywhere. He had found 
his true element at last. How tame and provincial 
the Neapolitan parties looked now ! How dull 
and restricted were ambitions that limited one to 
Italy! Paris was the theatre of Europe — with 
a crowded audience of all nations watching, half 
laughing and half afraid, the next move in her 
breathless tragi-comedy. There was hardly ever a 
more effective actor on her boards than this buffoon, 
this keen-set httle wit, this jester, with here and 
there, now and then, as if by accident, some 
poignant meaning, some thrilling prophecy beating 
beneath his jests, and startling his hearers to a 
brief and sudden gravity. 

In spite of the facts that Galiani was busy 
learning French, making a Commentary on Horace, 
and working at the duties of his secretaryship with 
an entirely superfluous energy, his social life in 
Paris began early in the morning. It was his 
custom to stop in bed till the middle of the day 


and thus receive his friends; tenir son lit de justice, 
he called it. Sometimes he would wrap himself 
up, and sit on the bed with his little legs crossed 
like a tailor. He talked a great deal — a great 
deal too much, said some people; he had no 
'flashes of silence.' When his friend began 
speaking he waited impatiently to leap into the 
conversation himself; and when the friend at- 
tempted to make himself heard, ' Let me finish,' 
says the Abbe, ' you will have plenty of time to 
answer me back ; ' but he took good care that that 
time never came. ' Paris,' he used to say regret- 
fully in later years, ' is the only place where they 
listened to me ; ' and one of his biographers declares 
pathetically that he died of ' paroles rentrees et non 

No wonder he was so full of life in the 
French capital. The talk of the morning was 
always followed by more talk in the evening. 
On Thursdays, it was Madame Geoffrin's turn 
to receive. This 'nurse of philosophy,' this 
calm, placid, old hostess with her quiet, ortho- 
dox principles, and her prudent, regular life, 
could no more help loving this little libertine 
of a wit than could her lighter sisters. He 
was 'her abbe, her little abbe, her petite chose.' 
As for him, he loved her without after-thought, 
and with the whole-hearted impetuosity of his 


nature. He declared that she inspired him with 
wit, that her arm-chairs were the tripods of 
Apollo and he was the Sibyl. Her very primness 
egged him on to more reckless stories, to wilder 
buffooneries ; but he went away laughing at her 
and loving her and respecting her, and did all to 
the end of his life. 

There was another woman whom he also 
respected, but whom he did not love. With her 
one intense, overmastering passion centred on her 
husband, Madame Necker was for ever the Cal- 
vinist pastor's daughter, ' rigid, frigid, and good.' 
One female friend spoke of her acrimoniously as 
' soaked in starch,' and Galiani him self complained, 
without by any means intending a compliment, of 
her 'cold demeanour of decency.' How such a 
ribald, rollicking person as himself ever gained 
admittance to a Puritan household would be a 
wonder in our day ; but in that day if, as Galiani 
himself wrote, one was only to know virtu- 
ous people, the number of one's friends would 
be alarmingly reduced. And — and — Madame 
Necker 's salon was not for herself or her acquaint- 
ance ; it was for her husband. Across the dinner- 
table on those Fridays the lively and daring 
Italian would defend with his rapid, reckless 
tongue the causes which his heavy host could only 
maintain with his pen. Leaning after dinner 


against the chimney corner, with his sparkling eyes 
lighting up his keen pale face, with his dwarfs 
figure dressed always with an infinite neatness 
and nicety, Galiani would fight single-handed that 
battle against the Economists, his own and Necker's 
special antipathies, and fight it, too, against such 
men as Thomas, Eaynal, and Morellet. No wonder 
Madame Necker overlooked her visitor's pecca- 
dilloes. The little Abbe had such a resistless 
torrent of logic ! If the other side had reason 
in its favour, no one had a chance of advancing 
that reason. Directly anyone else began to talk, 
Galiani slipped away, and, there being no Opposi- 
tion, Parliament rose. 

After the orthodoxy of Madame GeofFrin and 
the decency of Madame Necker, the gatherings 
of Baron d'Holbach at Grandval might have been 
supposed to have afibrded Galiani an agreeable 
contrast. Not content with disbelieving himself, 
the Baron's scepticism was of that eager and 
proselytising kind which must for ever be destroy- 
ing the faith of others. He delivered himself of 
it with a daring irreverence that made even the 
Italian Abbe shudder, though, heaven knows I he 
talked freely enough himself, and had listened to 
free enough talk from others. He was here, as 
he had been at the Neckers', almost alone in the 
Opposition. It delighted him to lean over the 


table and assure these persons who were for push- 
ing throne and Church, King and priest, down the 
abyss as fast as might be, that he loved despotism, 
' bien cru, bien vert, bien ^pre.' It was Galiani 
who alone perceived that these wild theories, con- 
ceived in salons^ must, when translated into deeds, 
first of all destroy those who conceived them, and 
that a change in the Constitution, which might be 
a very beautiful thing when done, was a very vile 
thing in the doing. ' It worries two or three 
generations,' he said, ' and only obliges posterity. 
Posterity is merely a possibility, and we are reali- 
ties. And why should realities put themselves 
out for possibilities ? ' 

One day at d'Holbach's, the conversation on 
the Deity became so outrageous, that, with every 
man's hand against him, Galiani rose. ' Messieurs 
les Philosophes,' says he, ' you go too fast. If I 
were the Pope, I should hand you over to the 
Inquisition ; if the King, to the Bastille. But as I 
have the good luck to be neither, I shall come to 
dinner next Thursday, and you shall listen to me 
as patiently as I have listened to you.' 

Thursday came. After dinner and coffee, the 
Abbe takes an armchair, crosses his legs, removes 
his wig (the night being sultry), and, with those 
lively gesticulations which he can no more help 
than he can help breathing, tells a story. 


'Please suppose, gentlemen, that one of you, 
who is the most convinced that this world is the 
result of chance, happens to be playing at dice, 
not in a gambling hell but in one of the best 
houses in Paris. His adversary, casting one, two, 
three, four — many times — always throws number 
six. After the game has gone on a little while, 
my friend Diderot, we will say, who is losing his 
money, will certainty call out, "The dice are 
cogged ! This is some swindlers' den ! " What, 
philosopher, what ? Because ten or twelve throws 
of dice come out of the box so that you lose half a 
dozen francs, you are firmly convinced that this is 
the result of a clever design, an artificial combi- 
nation, a complicated roguery ; and yet, seeing in 
the universe a mighty number of combinations a 
thousand times more difficult, more complicated, 
and more useful, you do not suspect that Nature's 
dice are also cogged, and that above there is a 
great Arranger ? ' 

It was a most happy illustration, if not a 
convincing argument. But the age which was 
swayed by the eloquence of Eousseau always pre- 
ferred an example to a reason: while the class 
who laughed later at 'The Marriage of Figaro' 
might certainly be counted on to enjoy a joke 
against itself. 

There was a fourth salon where Galiani 


was much more at home than at Grandval, 
or under the prim wings of Madame Necker or 
the motherly feathers of Madame GeoiFrin. At 
Madame d'Epinay's alone, he was perfectly 
natural, his rollicking, buffooning, all-daring self, 
able, as only a Southerner is able, to make him- 
self entirely ridiculous without being at all con- 

Madame d'Epinay was that clever wife of a 
ruined Farmer General, who had been petted by 
Eousseau, and played with by Voltaire. Madame 
d'Houdetot was her sister-in-law ; Diderot was her 
constant associate ; Grimm was her lover ; and 
Galiani became, and remained for twenty years, 
her most sincere and admiring friend. 

A Platonic friendship is perhaps only possible 
when one or other of the Platonists is in love with 
a third person. Grimm, with his well-regulated 
head and heart, was not only perfectly able to 
keep a fickle woman true to him, but himself 
to retain an honest regard for the Abbe and to 
use his opinions and his wit for the ' Literary 

Madame d'Epinay's salon was of all salons the 
most thoroughly characteristic of the time and the 
people. No one had any duty but to amuse him- 
self. From early in the morning, a few charming 
and accomphshed women, who always relegated 


their children to servants, their stupid husbands 
to oblivion, and their households to chance, talked 
delightfully over their embroidery (with which the 
fashion demanded they should toy) to men, of 
whom among many astounding characteristics, not 
the least astounding is their prodigious idleness 
coupled with their prodigious literary production. 

Galiani himself was the greatest attraction 
Madame d'Epinay's circle could claim. When he 
came in on a dripping country afternoon at La 
Chevrette, or in some murky winter twilight in 
Paris, there came with him, said Diderot, light, 
brightness, gaiety, folly, mirth — everything which 
makes one forget the cares of life. Mademoiselle 
d'Ette, who was at once her hostess's worst and 
dearest friend, looked up from her embroidery 
frame with her stealthy eyes aglow to welcome an 
acquisition so delightful. Madame d'Epinay was, 
as ever, gay, caressing, insouciante. Diderot was 
in ecstasies (he was always in an ecstasy about 
something) at the little Italian's arrival. He was 
a perfect treasure on a wet day ! If the toy-shops 
made Galianis, everybody would buy one I 

The Abbe takes his seat, cross-legged as usual, 
and from that head which was *a library of 
anecdotes,' reels out a dozen stories, acting them 
all with an inimitable hveliness, while his hearers 
laugh till they cry. 


A few of those stories sound dull in print, or 
have lost point with their youth ; many more dis- 
gust modern taste by their elegant indecency. 
But the man who dubbed Paris, 'the Cafe de 
r Europe,' d'Holbach, ' the maitre dJhotel of philo- 
sophy,' and the vaunted liberty of the Apostles of 
the Social Contract, 'the right of interfering in 
other people's business,' still proves his title of 
wit. It was Galiani too who defined the death of 
Maria Theresa as ' an ink-bottle spilt over the map 
of Europe ; ' and Sophie Arnould's exquisite lost 
voice as ' the most beautiful asthma ' he ever 
heard. It was Galiani who said that suffering was 
the cart-horse, and ennui the horse in the rich 
man's stable. It was Galiani who declared that the 
Jesuits lengthened the Creed and shortened the 
Decalogue that they might succeed better in the 
world, and Galiani who affirmed that the priests 
had changed the name of the Sacrament from 
Penitence to Confession, because they thought it 
sufficient to avow their sins without correcting 
them. Finally, it was Galiani who proved that 
he knew intimately one side of the life around 
him, when he declared that the women of the 
eighteenth century loved with their minds, not 
with their hearts. 

Always inimitably good-humoured, never bored, 
never weary, ready to play on the clavecin or sing 




in the most charming voice in the world if the 
audience should tire of his conversation, seeing 
the ridiculous side of any subject in a flash, prompt 
with an anecdote to fit the most unforeseen occa- 
sion — ' the little creature born at the foot of Vesu- 
vius,' clown, harlequin, Punchinello — whatever 
men called him — was, and is, without counter- 
part in social history. There will be and have 
been — there certainly were in the eighteenth cen- 
tury — many agreeable young gentlemen who not 
only often dined out, but who entirely lived and 
fattened on a pretty taste in stories and hons mots, 
and a constant readiness to make fools of them- 
selves for the benefit of an idle audience afraid 
of being bored ; but there was rarely, if ever, a 
buffoon of such vast and solid erudition, of mental 
capacities so great and so varied, and of mental 
achievements so momentous, as the Abbe Galiani. 
While the salons were petting and spoiling him, 
while he seemed to be doing nothing but talk from 
morning till night and from night until morning, 
while he was regarded as such a complete and 
irresistible joke that people laughed at his very 
name, he had yet worked so hard as Secretary to 
the Embassy and Charge d' Affaires that he raised 
the whole diplomatic corps to a worthier posi- 
tion, and advanced the interests of Naples with 
a steadiness and persistency usually allotted to a 


very different character. His Majesty Louis the 
Fifteenth presented him with a box set in dia- 
monds. Choiseul's light indifference changed into 
a cool consideration. All the time the man was 
writing, observing, thinking. Was he a politician 
pour rire ? He seemed to be everything pour rire. 
But after all, who knows ? The men who had 
laughed the most heartily at his absurdities, turned 
and looked at him again with a wonder in their 

In 1765 he obtained a year's leave of absence 
and went home to take the baths of Ischia. In 
1766, on the invitation of the Marquis Caraccioli, 
Italian Ambassador, he went to stay in London. 

It must be recorded regretfully that the Abbe 
did not find Britain or the British at all to his 
taste. David Hume said indignantly that though 
he only remained two months in our country, 
talked himself the whole time, and would not 
allow an Englishman to put in a word, yet when : 
he came away he dogmatised on the character of i 
the nation all the rest of his life as if he had never '^ 
studied anything else. That he did not share the 
Anglomania of Voltaire is certainly true. Some 
years later, to one of his correspondents, he defined 
the English rather happily as ' the best educated 
nation in the world, and consequently the greatest, 
the most troublesome, and the most melancholy.' 



But some at least of his letters abuse England very 
freely. It was, no doubt, as difficult for the 
Britons to understand a Galiani as for a Galiani 
to understand them ; and not at all wonderful that 
he carried away from our shores an impression of 
an Englishman as a solid, emotionless person, who 
resented buffoonery as an insult, never uttered a joke 
or saw one, and had all the qualities which make 
a nation mighty and an individual disagreeable. 

The Abbe was a somewhat graver man him- 
self when he came back to Paris. He was now 
thirty-eight years old, a little less free of tongue, 
a thought less sceptical in religion. His letters 
of the time contain grave observations on the 
Seven Years' War, and on the condition of the 
Paris Parliament. But he was still about the 
salons, still Parisian to the finger-tips, and he still 
loved Paris from his soul. 

And in 1769, like a clap of thunder, came the 
foudroyant news of his recall to Naples. 

Eecalled! The hostesses of Paris looked at 
each other in dismay. Eecalled ! It is surely the 
end of all things if some political exigency, some 
party question, is allowed to interfere with our 
amusements Hke this ! Is it Choiseul, who has pro- 
tected the Economists, while Galiani hated them, 
who has done this thing ? The exact reason for it 
was then matter of speculation, and is so still. 


It was enough, more than enough, that it was a 
fact that this dear, merry, little Abbe must pack 
up his trunks and go out of light into darkness, 
out of the sunshine of social favour in which he 
had basked and purred and gambolled, into the 
gloom of the provincial obscurity from which he 
had come. 

If Paris was struck with dismay, Galiani him- 
self was overwhelmed by the greatest calamity of 
his life. He declared that he had never wept at 
anything, not even the death of his relations, so 
much as at leaving Paris. ' They have torn me ] 
from Paris,' he cried, ' and they have torn out 
my heart.' He swore that the only good thing ] 
that wearisome Mr. Sterne, the English author, 
' ever uttered was when he said to me, " It is 
better to die in Paris than to live in Naples." ' 
He wrung his hands, and bemoaned out loud, 
according to his temperament. He followed his 
departure by letters to Madame d'fipinay and to 
d'Alembert which are really pathetic. He was 
also leaving behind him in Paris a woman to whom 
he was tied by an attachment, not Platonic. He 
was torn, in brief, from everything — friends and 
mistress, career, work, play — ^life itself. No wonder 
despair seized his soul. He went, and in parting 
flung into the camp of the Economists, whom he 
believed to be the enemy responsible for his over- 


throw, a bomb whose explosion rang through 

In 1770 there appeared in Paris the ' Dialogues 
on the Corn Trade.' The taxation of, or free 
trade in, grain had long been a vexed question, 
not only in the minds of politicians but in the 
minds of all intelligent Frenchmen. Free Food ! 
cried the Economist, rich in the support of Turgot 
and of Choiseul. Tax it ! replied their opponents, 
mighty with the strength of Terrai, the graceless 
Controller-General, and the growing influence of 

Through the wit and the parties, in the midst of 
ardent secretarial duties and of continual literary 
studies, somehow, at some time — though how and 
at what time it would be difficult to say — Galiani 
had brought to bear on the question his Italian 
shrewdness and brilliancy, all the learning and 
observation taught him by his uncle, and the 
judgment and the wisdom taught him by Heaven. 
No man would have believed that such a merry, 
light, social person could have pondered so deeply ; 
no one had believed it. The book was in the form 
of a dialogue between a Marquis and a Chevalier. 
It was as gay and rollicking as the little Abbe's 
own talk. In fact, it was his own talk ; but it was 
something much more. It was much more even 
than a pamphlet on a passing question, on a matter 


of local momentary importance, ' Eead between 
the lines and in the margin,' it was an able work 
on the science of government, what Grimm called 
justly 'the production of a sound and enlightened 
philosopher, and of a statesman.' In it the author 
exposed his theory that a man of State must know 
not only his business but the human heart — ^ 
' You must study men before you can rule them.' | 
This knowledge he denied to Turgot ; and he | 
warned France, in solemn prophecy to be fulfilled' 
too soon, to beware in her rulers, not the rogues 
and the knaves — they soon show themselves in 
their true colours — but I'honnete homme trompL 
' He wishes all men well, so all men trust him ; 
but he is deceived as to the means of doing well.' 

The work was received with the wildest enthu- *' 
siasm. In far Ferney, the spirited old Patriarch 
of Literature jumped for joy, almost literally, at 
a wit and a style so inimitable. No man ever 
reasoned so agreeably before. ... 'No man \ 
has ever made famine so amusing. ... If the 
work does not diminish the price of bread, it will 
give pleasure to the whole nation. . . . Plato 
and Moliere have combined to write it. . . .' 
Excellent ! excellent ! And in the same year, 1770, 
the master himself wrote for his ' Questions on the 
Encyclopaedia ' the article on Grain wherein Galiani 
was not forgotten. 


Diderot, who, with Grimm and Madame d'fipi- 
nay, had helped to correct the proofs of the 
' Dialogues,' declared impetuously to Mademoiselle 
Volland that he had gone down on his knees to 
implore Galiani to publish them. Grimm said that 
if he were Controller- General he should attach the 
Abbe to France, if it cost the King forty thousand 
livres per annum, ' without any other stipulation 
but that he should amuse himself and come twice 
a week to chat with me over the affairs of my 
Government.' Even Freron, filie Freron, the 
brilliant Parisian journalist, who hated Voltaire 
and consequently all Voltaire's colleagues and 
disciples, could not help praising the thing in his 
'' Literary Year.' Frederick the Great wrote the 
author a flattering letter. 

The book's foes advertised it even better than 
its friends. At first, the leaders in the Economist 
camp looked at each other in dismay. Granted 
that they had justice and reason on their side, 
what could justice and reason do in the Paris of 
1770 against that bubbhng, sparkling wit? The 
capital must, first of all, be amused. What use, 
then, to advance the always doubtful argument 
that a writer cannot be at once gay and trust- 
worthy, that if he is really worth hearing he can 
never be heard without a yawn ? 

The Abbe Morellet, as large as Galiani was 


small, and as ponderous in style as the Abbe was 
light, was employed to answer him. The good 
man wrote his refutation with such haste and 
ardour that the skin of his little finger was com- 
pletely worn off from much rubbing against the side 
of his desk. And, after all, no one read him. He 
may, or may not, be right ; he is certainly dull ! 

Then Turgot took up a mightier pen and 
wielded a mightier influence. Noble and disin- 
terested, a better and a greater man than Galiani, 
the Statesman of that company of which the 
Abbe was but the Wit, Turgot sought, as did 
Galiani, the good and the progress of humanity ; 
but he sought it by a diiferent road, and by the 
labour of his whole life. He recognised the clever- 
ness of the book ; a bad cause, said he, could not 
be maintained with more grace and cleverness. 
But my little brother the Abbe is wrong, not the 
less. In the ' Dialogues ' there peeped out, thought 
Turgot, something of the comfortable indifierence 
of those who are content to leave the world as it is 
because it goes so smoothly with them, something / 
of the laziness and the selfishness that come 
naturally to a little writer himself so comfortably 
beneficed and mitred. Galiani lacked, in fact, 
Turgot's 'instincts of the heart which teach the 

Eight or wrong — Vhonnete homme trompe 


perhaps — Turgot had put his soul into the great 
cause of humanity, and Galiani had only put his 
mind. What wonder that they saw the same 
world with different eyes, and would have worked 
out the salvation of faUing France, by methods not 
only opposite but opposed ? 

Galiani went back to Naples. For many months, 
for years, his letters are full of his book, that effort 
which, even if misdirected, proved that he was no 
drone in the hive, that he too had that one great 
virtue common to all the philosophers and redeem- 
ing half their sins — he had heard the trumpet-call 
of responsibility towards his fellows, and had 
answered it. 

After Paris, Naples was not merely dull, it was 
extinction. The poor little Abbe bemoaned his 
fate to Madame d'Epinay in the most touching of 
all jesting letters. True, there was society here, 
and Galiani was its lion. But what society ! There 
was Lady Orford, Eobert Walpole's daughter-in- 
law, who had a country house close to Galiani's at 
Santo Sorio, at the foot of Vesuvius, and there 
was Sir William Hamilton, now British envoy and, 
to be, the husband of Lady Hamilton. Presently 
there came, too, the Marquis of Lansdowne, who 
was amiable, which, said Galiani, ' is a very rare 
thing for an Englishman, and Secretary of State, 
which is a very common thing.' 


But the Abbe hated the English ; and he was 
bored to death. The Court of Naples gave him 
more lucrative posts — and though he described 
himself as avide without being avare, which meant 
that he was greedy of money and yet lavish in 
spending it — money, even w^hen it does not beget 
ennui^ certainly never destroys it. He turned to 
his museum full of medals and bronzes, pictures 
and weapons — and that bored him too. Paris, 
Paris ! He hankered after it for ever. ' What is 
the good of inoculation here,' he grumbled, after 
expressing delight in that discovery, ' when living 
itself is not worth while? ' ' What a life ! ' he wrote 
dismally to d'Holbach in 1770. 'Nothing amusing 
here ... no edicts ... no suspensions of pay- 
ment ... no quarrels about anything — not even 
about religion. Dear Paris, how I regret you ! ' 

In 1771 died there that Madame Daubiniere to 
whom he had been attached by no Platonic tie, and 
whom he had not hesitated to recommend to the 
good offices of Madame d'Epinay ; and in the same 
year the death of Helvetius, the rich and amiable 
ex-Farmer-General, ' left a blank in the line of our 
battalion.' 'Let us love each other the better, 
we who remain,' says Galiani. ' Close the lines. 
Advance ! Fire ! ' He was always declaring he had 
no heart ; but it was there, under the lava of world- 
liness and mockery, as Pompeii and Herculaneum 


lay hid beneath the lava of his own Vesuvius. 
He was soon busy procuring a post at Court for 
his unsuccessful brother Bernard — Bernard, who 
had a large family, little money, and the dull 
bookworm talents that bring no more. Then 
Bernard died, and up starts the Abbe in a new 
role. There are three stupid nieces to be married, 
to say nothing of the widow ! The indefatigable 
uncle found the girls eligible husbands, although 
one of them, as he wrote frankly, was as ugly as a 
hunchback. Then he discovered some one to marry 
his sister-in-law. ' If this goes on,' he wrote to 
Madame d'Epinay, ' people will clap when I go into 
my box at the theatre.' 

Presently the King of Naples gave him yet two 
more posts — entailing not only emoluments but 
work — and he resumed his literary labours, wrote 
a pamphlet on the ' Instincts and Habitual Tastes 
of Man,' a comic opera, to Paisiello's music, 
called ' The Imaginary Socrates,' and another most 
amusing pamphlet, written in a single night, to 
distract the Neapolitans from their fright on the 
eruption of Vesuvius in 1779. 

In 1781 he visited Eome, and was courted by 
all the great people; and when he came home 
Naples gave him another rich abbey and another 
most lucrative civil appointment. He was still a 
comparatively young man. Fortune had over- 


turned her horn at his feet. ' The torment of all 
things accomplished, the plague of nought to 
desire/ might well have been Galiani's. But he 
had the rare power of finding happiness where 
it most often hides — in small and common things. 
The monkey which had amused his leisure he had 
replaced by a couple of cats, and it afforded him 
infinite amusement to watch their gambols and 
their habits, and write long dissertations on the 
natural history of the animal to Madame d'fipinay 
in Paris. 

His friendship with her had lasted without 
break or blot for nearly five-and-twenty years. 
If happiness meant only exemption from suffering, 
then well for Galiani that no woman ever held his 
heart more nearly than this light, bright, irre- 
sponsible little person. But that side of existence 
which brings the deepest sorrow brings too the 
highest joy, and who is spared the first, misses the 
second. Madame Daubiniere had touched neither 
his soul nor his life ; Madame d'Epinay only aroused 
a capacity for a friendship which, as he loved no 
one, had certainly assumed some of the absorption 
of a passion. When she died in 1783, he stood 
in the presence of a great and a most genuine 
sorrow. She had represented the Paris he would 
see no more ; to answer her letters had been a 
large occupation in his life — and she was dead! 


He turned to his work as his last hope, to the one 
means that was left of making life endurable. In 
1785 he was attacked by apoplexy, and two years 
later he travelled for his health. But it was not 
improved. ' The dead are so bored,' he said in his 
old jesting manner ; ' they have asked me to come 
and cheer them a little.' 

In the October of 1787 the King and Queen of 
Naples commanded him to meet them at Portici. 
He went, but he was long past receiving pleasure 
from such honours. The Sovereigns were struck 
with his altered appearance, and begged him to 
consult a doctor. Queen Caroline wrote him a 
letter imploring him to renounce his scepticism 
and make ready for heaven. He answered with 
dignity and respect ; but no physician for either 
the soul or the body could aid him now. He 
kept his gaiety to the last. As he had loved in 
life to be surrounded by friends, they were about 
his deathbed. He declared to them that he felt 
no sorrow in dying, save that he would fain have 
lived to publish his book on Horace. The night 
before his death Gatti, his friend and doctor, told 
him he had refused an invitation to the opera 
from the Ambassador of France to be near his 
friend. ' Ah,' says Galiani, ' you still look on me 
as Harlequin ? Well, perhaps I shall prove more 
amusing than the opera.' And he did. Two hours 


before his death General Acton, the Prime Minister, 
called to see him. ' Tell his Excellency I cannot 
receive him. My carriage is at the door. Warn 
him to prepare his own.' 

He died on October 30, 1787, aged nearly fifty- 

Dagonet, King's Fool at Arthur's Court, could 
not avert his master's ruin, but, noblest of all 
Fools, he tried. Galiani, with his laughing bells 
jingling in those 'Dialogues,' spoke his message 
in jests and could not help starving France, nor 
even postpone by an hour the raid on the bakers' 
shops in the Faubourg St. Antoine. But he, too, 
did his best. 



The proverb is indigenous to Spain, verse to Italy, 
and the aphorism to France. In that form of 
speech in which, in Vauvenargues' own words. 
La Eochefoucauld had 'turned men from virtue 
by persuading them that it is never genuine,' 
Vauvenargues vindicated human goodness, showed 
man that the best way to reform the world is to 
reform himself, and taught him how to use the 
freedom Voltaire gave him. 

In his delicate thoughtfulness, in his convic- 
tion that man's happiness depends upon his 
character and not upon his circumstances, in his 
mistrust of the cold god, Eeason, and his belief 
in the soundness of the intuitions of the heart, 
Vauvenargues stands alone among his compeers. 
He stands alone, too, among them in his personal 
nearness to Voltaire's affections. The noblest 
testimony to Vauvenargues' character is that it 
compelled the reverence of him who reverenced 

From a Print in the Bibliotheqxie Nationale, Paris. 






nothing; and the finest compliment ever paid to 
Voltaire was to be loved by a Vauvenargues. 

Born on August 6, 1715, at Aix in Pro- 
vence — in a mean house which still stands and 
is to-day a grocer's shop — Luc de Vauvenargues 
came of a poor family of provincial noblesse and 
was from the first what he remained to the last, 
delicate in constitution and with limited prospects 
of worldly success. 

His very imperfect education he received at 
the College of Aix, where his small Latin and less 
Greek were frequently interrupted by ill health. 
But he had a possession which is in itself an 
education — a good father. 

Joseph de Clapiers had been created Marquis 
de Vauvenargues in 1722, when Luc was seven 
years old, for having been the only magistrate in 
Aix who did not run away from the place and his 
duty when a pestilence devastated the country- 
side in 1720. 

For companions, Luc had two younger 
brothers and a cousin of his own age, a coarse, 
clever, selfish, undisciplined boy, named Victor 
Eiquetti Mirabeau, who was to become the 
' crabbed old Friend of Men ' and the great father 
of a greater son. The boys had little in common 
but genius, and were attracted to each other by 



their very unlikeness. At sixteen, Luc was reading 
with passionate transport that ' splendid painting of 
virtue' 'Plutarch's Lives' (in a translation) and 
then the letters of Brutus to Caesar, 'so filled 
with dignity, loftiness, passion, and courage,' said 
he, ' that I never could read them calmly.' Victor 
had already plunged into that blusterous, incon- 
tinent life which was to bring ruin to his own 
family and quite spoil the effect of his loud-voiced 
schemes for the good of mankind. 

When both were seventeen the pair parted for 
a while. Luc must choose one of the only two 
professions open to his caste — the Church or the 
Army. The Church would not do, because, boy 
though he was, he was already philosopher and 
thinker — ay, in the noblest sense of the word — 
free-thinker too. Then it must be the Army! 
Picture this new subaltern of the King's Own 
Eegiment, in the loveliest pale grey uniform, faced 
with Eoyal blue, with the most splendid braidings, 
and the very buttonholes sewn with gold silk, 
with his tall, boyish figure, his handsome face, his 
' proud and pensive grace '—for all the world like 
the soldier-hero of a woman's novel. But he was 
already something very different from that. The 
handsome face bespoke a noble nature, ambitious 
for all great things, strong and ready to begin the 
world, to play his part therein if it be the part of 


a man of Deeds alone — or if the Deeds be but 
foundation for the Thoughts. 

His first campaign was in Italy in 1733 with 
Marshal Villars, who was on his last. Italy ! the 
land of dreams ! The boy was filled with splendid 
visions of following Hannibal across the mountains 
— with young sanguine hopes of gloriously doing 
his duty and meeting immediate, glorious rewards. 
For three years he knew the intoxication — and 
the horrors — of a victorious campaign. And then 
of a sudden he found himself condemned at 
one-and-twenty to the vicious idleness, the low 
pleasures, and the deadening routine of a garrison 
life. The rich oflScers were of course drawn by 
that magnet, the Court, to keep up their military 
studies and prepare for the next war by dancing 
attendance on women and flattering the Minister 
and the King at Versailles. The poor ones re- 
mained on duty — with not enough of it to keep 
them out of mischief, and with, for the most part, 
debased tastes, because their intellectual limita- 
tions precluded them from higher. 

The contamination of that useless existence 
even a Vauvenargues did not wholly escape. 
For a brief while he was as other men are. But 
the pleasures of a garrison town could not long 
hold such a nature as his. Already — he was 
but twenty-two — he had that love of solitude 

H 2 


which, says a great German philosopher, is wel- 
comed or avoided as a man's personal value is 
great or small. Already — at an age when other 
men scarcely realise they have a soul — this man 
was dominated by the idea of its value and 
dignity ; and deep within him was the passion and 
resolution to exercise to the full its powers and 

With his companions he was wholly simple, 
natural, and friendly — without the faintest taint 
of that conscious superiority which makes many 
good people at once useless as a moral influence 
and objectionable as companions. 'Father,' his 
brother officers used to call him. Marmontel said 
'he held all our souls in his hands.' He soon 
resumed, by correspondence, his friendship with 
Victor Mirabeau ; and in their discussions on love 
— the view he takes of this passion is always a 
sure test of a man's character — each letter- writer 
showed the yawning gulf that divided him from 
the other. 

If Vauvenargues ever met the woman worthy 
to hold his heart, to be, in the finest and highest 
understanding of those words, his companion and 
completion, is not known. He writes of love as if 
he had felt it. But to some pure souls — as to a 
Milton and a St. John the Divine — are revealed in 
visions the Eden and the New Jerusalem wherein 


they never walked. Yauvenargues' letters to 
Mirabeau treat of the subject with such an ex- 
quisite dignity and refinement — with such noble 
silences — that there is at least no doubt that if he 
never found the woman who would have realised 
his ideals, he was spared the bitterness of loving 
one who broke them. 

Cousin Victor easily perceived that this thought- 
ful young soldier was fitted for something widely 
different from the life of a garrison town. Come 
up to Paris, then ! Take up letters as a career ! 
Win the smiles of the Court, and a pension from 
the Privy Purse ! But Yauvenargues not only 
preferred literature to the sham called literary 
fame, but he loved his own profession. 

Thinker as nature had made him, thinker, 
moralist, aphorist as he has come down the ages, 
he was first of all a man of action, and so sound 
in thought because he was so strong in deeds. 
All his maxims were ' hewn from life.' When the 
death of the Emperor Charles YI. in 1740 shook 
the kingdoms of Europe as a child shakes its 
marbles in a bag, Luc de Yauvenargues shouldered 
his knapsack and went out to Bohemia under the 
command of Belle-Isle. Eeady to dare and to do, 
brave, young, high-spirited, knowing no career 
more glorious than arms, he looked round him and 
drew from keen experience his views of the world. 


The philosopher in a study, weighing the pros 
and cons of motives he knows by hearsay, of deeds 
of which he has read, of passions he has never 
felt, may be a very fine thinker, but will hardly be 
chosen as a sound guide to practice. 

The explorer who has faced the torrent and 
the mountain, the burning sun of the desert, 
hunger and cold and thirst, who has himself 
fought with beasts at Ephesus, will have a know- 
ledge of the country he has discovered, which 
no books and lectures, no geographical or topo- 
graphical knowledge can ever give to the cleverest 
student at home. The worth and the use of 
Vauvenargues' axioms on life lie largely in the 
fact that he had been there himself. 

The very brief triumph of the capture of 
Prague in 1742 was succeeded by the horrors of 
the great mid- winter march from Prague to Egra. 
The King's Own sufiered terribly. Death, defeat, 
famine, Vauvenargues knew not as names but as 
realities. In the spring of 1742 he had lost a 
young comrade, de Seytres, and wrote an iloge of 
him. Its immature and stilted style gives little 
idea of the warm feeling it clothed. Morley speaks 
of Vauvenargues' 'patient sweetness and equa- 
nimity ' as a friend ; and records how hardship 
made him ' not sour,' but wise and tender. All 
through that fearful march, in this strange soldier's 


knapsack were the manuscripts of ' Discourses 
on Fame and Pleasure,' 'Counsels to a Young 
Man,' and a ' Meditation on Faith.' Of many of 
his maxims on patience and the brave endurance 
of suffering, he must have found at this time cruel 
personal need. 

The handsome young officer who had left 
France in the prime of his hopes and his manhood, 
returned to it with his health utterly ruined, 
both his legs frost-bitten, and his lungs seriously 

Still, he gathered together the strength he had 
left him and the pluck that never failed him, re- 
joined his regiment in Germany in 1743, fought 
nobly for his fallen cause at Dettingen, and re- 
turned to the garrison of Arras at the end of the 
year, an invalid for life. 

Tt was now obvious he could no longer pursue 
his calling. Though he wrote with a keen and 
bitter truth that courage had come to be re- 
garded as a popular delusion, patriotism as a 
prejudice, and that 'one sees in the army only 
disgust, ennui, neglect, murmuring ; luxury and 
effeminacy have produced the same effrontery 
as peace; and those who should, from their 
position, arrest the progress of the evil, en- 
courage it by their example,' yet still he would, 
if he could, have been soldier to the end. For 


a time he thought of diplomacy. ' Great posi- 
tions soon teach great minds,' was one of his 
axioms. He would have been well fitted. But 
merit was not of the slightest help to advance- 
ment. To fawn on the King and the Mistress, to 
prostitute one's life and one's talents to a Court — 
here was the way to promotion. Vauvenargues 
wrote to the King and corresponded with Amelot 
the Minister, who answered most amiably and 
affably — and did nothing at all. ' Permit me, sir,' 
wrote Vauvenargues to him at last, with the 
directness taught in camps, ' to assure you that 
it is a moral impossibility for a gentleman, with 
nothing but zeal to commend him, ever to reach 
the King.' Amelot, stung a little, promised the 
next vacant post, and this time promised sincerely. 

Vauvenargues retired to Provence and to quiet, 
to learn his new business. There he was attacked 
by confluent small-pox, which left him nearly 
blind and wholly disfigured : a misfortune he felt 
painfully as ' one of those accidents which prevent 
the soul from showing itself.' But worse than 
any disfigurement, the partial blindness made, of 
course, a diplomatic career an impossibility for 

Before the campaign of 1743, Vauvenargues 
had introduced himself to Arouet de Voltaire, by 
a letter in which the obscure soldier-critic com- 


pared Corneille disadvantageously with Eacine. 
Nothing is so delightful in Voltaire's own genius 
as his generous recognition of other men's. 
Nothing is more to his honour than his high ad- 
miration for the moral gifts of a Vauvenargues 
who was young enough to be his son, who was 
poor, forlorn, a nobody, and whose fine qualities 
of lofty highmindedness, delicacy, patience and 
serenity found, alas ! no counterpart in Voltaire's 
own nature. It is so much the more to his credit 
that he could admire what he could never imitate, 
and appreciate what was wholly foreign to his 
temperament. He rejoiced in the thoughtful 
ability of that letter. ' It is the part of such a 
man as you,' he replied, ' to have preferences but 
no exclusions.' 

The campaign of 1743 had interrupted their 
relationship. But they resumed it now, and, 
behold ! it had turned into friendship. 

Voltaire was at this time fifty years old, famous 
as the author of the ' English Letters,' the ' Hen- 
riade,' a few brilliant plays, and also as Court 
wit and versifier. But he was already in mental 
attitude what he had not yet become in mental 
output and in active deed. He could recognise 
in this Vauvenargues not only a friend and a 
literary critic, but a thinker and a philosopher. 
Vauvenargues sent him by degrees most of his 


writings, and Voltaire's criticisms thereon, as sincere 
as they were enthusiastic, were in themselves a 
powerful persuasion to the man of deeds to become 
man of words ; while the Master's whole-hearted 
devotion to his own profession — the best and the 
noblest of all, though it bring no bread but the 
bread of affliction and of tears — was a further 
strong inducement to Vauvenargues to join the 
great brotherhood too. This soldier-thinker can 
tell men what to do when we have made them free 
to do what they will ! He is, he has confessed it, as 
'follement amoureux de la liberte' as I myself! 
To the individual soul he can give the help and 
the courage I have tried to give to the race, and 
to the riddle of the painful earth he can bring a 
wiser, tenderer, and braver solution than mine ! 

Vauvenargues was not, in fact, an intellect a 
Voltaire would lose. The young soldier decided 
to adopt literature as a profession, and began the 
world afresh. 

Everything, save only Voltaire's encourage- 
ment, was against such a decision. The old 
Marquis de Vauvenargues — from a very natural 
but very mistaken and unrobust tenderness — 
would have kept his son at home to lead a safe, 
idle, invalid life in Provence, with a stroll on the 
terrace of the Vauvenargues' country-house for 
exercise, a thick-headed provincial neighbour for 


mental recreation, and his own aches and pains 
for an interest. His other relations (on the 
principle of Myrtle in 'The Conscious Lovers' 
— ' We never had one of our Family before that 
descended from Persons that Did anything') 
objected to letters for one of Us as a low walk, 
leading directly to the Bastille. It was true that 
the moment was an inglorious one for literature. 
The Encyclopaedia was unconceived. Voltaire 
himself was not yet the mighty influence he 
was to become. Writing did pay badly, and the 
young Marquis was deadly poor. Greatest objec- 
tion of all was his own strong leaning to a life 
of action, and he himself first wrote of literature 
as being as ' repugnant ' to him as to his family. 
' But necessity knows no law.' 

That momentary bitterness passed. 'Despair 
is the worst of faults,' said he. It was his part — 
allotted to him by misfortune, by fate, by God — 
no longer to act himself, but to teach other 
men how to act. He thrust aside the objections 
of his relatives. ' It is better to derogate from 
one's caste than from one's genius.' He silenced 
his own disappointment. 'A great soul loves 
to fight against ill fortune . . . and the battle 
pleases him, independently of the victory.' 

In May, 1745, he came up to Paris, and in a 
very humble lodging, where the Eue Larrey and 


the Scliool of Medicine are now situated, began 
the world afresh. 

Anyone who supposes his discontent to come 
from his circumstances and not from himself, 
should consider the life of Vauvenargues, and 
the one book with which he has enriched 

Disappointed, disfigured, a failure ; useless 
for the career he had loved, incapable of the 
career he had tried ; cast off by his own people ; 
solitary in a great city; often in pain of body, 
and because the work he had chosen was not the 
work Nature had originally chosen for him, often 
in pain of mind too — if ever man had an excuse 
for cursing God and fate, it was surely Luc de 

La Eochefoucauld, rich and prosperous, with 
friends, position, and honour, had denied human 
virtue, and assailed it with cold malignities which 
still strike despair into the soul; and Voltaire 
himself, the most successful man of letters in 
history, turned upon life with gibes, and sneered 
at faith and happiness as alike chimaeras. 

But Vauvenargues looked out on the world 
which had given him nothing, with serene and 
patient eyes, and in a single book, as direct, strong, 
and simple as his own nature, evolved one of the 
most wise and comforting, one of the most sane. 


serene, and practical schemes of life, given to our 

The great questions. Why am I ? Whither go 
I ? Whence came I ? he asked himself as a 
thoughtful man must, but being a doer long before 
he was a thinker, he wasted little time in vainly- 
seeking to answer them. Among his papers are a 
Prayer as well as the ' Meditation.' For simple faith 
he had ever reverence and envy — for all solemn 
questions a deep respect ; and though he had no 
formulated religion, was yet deeply religious. But 
with him to be religious meant to Do Well. Live 
this life aright, and the next will take care of itself. 
' The thought of death deceives us, it makes us 
forget to live : one must live as if one would never 
die.' To waste time and energy in idle discussion 
and speculation on another world when there is 
so much to do to set this one straight, found no 
countenance from this man of Deeds. Do, not 
dream, was his motto for ever. 

There is not a page in his book — there is 
scarcely a line — which does not bear witness to 
his strong faith in men's honour and goodness, to 
his passionate conviction that out of worst evil 
one can get good, that the cruellest misfortunes 
ennoble and purify if one will let them, and our 
griefs may be for ever our gains. The hand that 
wrote was fevered with disease. No rich man, 


this, announcing glibly how comfortable it is to be 
poor. In the most vicious of all ages — and in not 
the least vicious of that age's environments — 
Vauvenargues had preserved his high ideals and 
his lofty character, and in sickness, sorrow, and 
disappointment he practised daily the courage he 

Instead of mockery — the besetting sin of his 
generation — this man, and this man alone, had for 
men's follies and absurdities only infinite compas- 
sion. Of him has been aptly quoted Bacon's 
beautiful phrase, ' he had an aspect as though he 
pitied men.' His philosophy remains for ever to 
the unquiet heart at once balm and tonic — the 
cool hand of compassion on the burning fore- 
head — the touch of a friend, who knows — the 
strong grasp of help to raise the feeble from his 
weakness and despair, and to make him do what 
he can. 

Some of the axioms have become part of men's 
speech, if not part of their soul. 

' Great thoughts come from the heart.' 

' We should comfort ourselves for not having 
fine talents, as we comfort ourselves for not having 
fine positions; we can be above both by the heart.' 

'Great men undertake great things because 
they are great, and fools because they think them 


'Would you say great things? Then first 
accustom yourself never to say false ones.' 

' Who can bear all, can dare all.' 

' Envy is confessed inferiority.' 

' Few sorrows are without remedy : despair is 
more deceptive than hope.' 

' Who gives his word lightly, breaks it.' 

' He who has great feeling, knows much.' 

' To the passions one owes the best things of 
the mind.' 

Into that mad devotion to wit which was the 
snare of all his compeers, Vauvenargues never fell. 
He worshipped at the shrine of a diviner goddess 
called Truth. There is not a single example — 
even in his maxims, when the temptation would 
naturally be strongest — of his sacrificing fidelity 
to smartness. 

In February 1746, after he had been less than 
a year in Paris, he published anonymously that 
book by which he has gone down the ages and 
up to the gods, and which contains only the 
'Introduction to the Knowledge of the Human 
Mind,' some ' Eeflections,' the ' Counsels to a Young 
Man,' a few critical articles, the 'Meditation on 
Faith,' and the ' Maxims.' 

Clear, clean, and vigorous in style, as sharp 
and brief as a military order — it was well said by 
a friend that its author ' wanted first of all to get 


along quickly and drag little baggage after him ; ' 
and better said by himself that, * when an idea will 
not bear a simple form of expression, it is the sign 
for rejecting it.' 

It was not the sort of work likely to bring him 
present fame, or money. He did not expect them. 
As he worked in his miserable lodgings, ill lit and 
ill warmed, already a prey to consumption, and 
suffering often acutely from the old frost-bites — no 
such hopes had buoyed him. But he did what he 
had told other men to do — worked for the work's 
sake — and he found what he had told them they 
would find, joy in the working and satisfaction in 
a noble aim, be it unrewarded for ever. 

The book dropped from the press perfectly 
stillborn. Eeflections and moralities in the Paris 
of 1746 ! No, thank you. No one even troubled 
to abuse it. No one, except Marmontel, who was 
Yauvenargues' personal friend, reviewed it. But 
Voltaire loudly pronounced it one of the best books 
in the language : ' The age ... is not worthy of 
you, but it has you, and I bless Nature. A year ago 
I said you were a great man, and you have be- 
trayed my secret.' After Yauvenargues' death he 
wrote of him, ' How did you soar so high in this 
age of littleness ? ' and spoke of the ' Maxims ' as 
characteristic of a profoundly sincere and thought- 
ful mind, wholly above all jealousies and party 


spirit. For sixty years the book lay germinating 
in a hard and barren soil, unworthy of it; and 
then rose fresh and strong from oblivion to the 
just and growing fame it enjoys to-day. It has 
been well said ' to give the soul of man an impetus 
towards truth.' 

Though his tastes, his poverty, and his health 
alike precluded Yauvenargues from joining in the 
socialities of the cafes and the salons during his 
brief life in Paris, he saw sometimes Marmontel and 
d'Argental, and often Voltaire. Marmontel was 
still only a boy who had just started literary life 
on a capital of six louis and the patronage of Vol- 
taire ; and d'Argental, Voltaire's dear ' guardian 
angel,' was the nephew of Madame de Tencin, and, 
perhaps, the author of her novels. Marmontel was 
on a very different plane of intellect and character 
from Vauvenargues — while the one was a lusty 
boy beginning the world, the other was a patient 
thinker who was leaving it. But in those bare 
and dreary surroundings, in the disfigured invalid 
of whom men had never heard, even the common- 
place cleverness of a Marmontel worshipped a hero. 
Long years after, he speaks of Vauvenargues' ' un- 
alterable serenity ' — of his brave and tender heart. 
' With him one learnt to live and learnt to die.' 

As for Voltaire, one can picture him just 
elected to the French Academy, the proteg^ of 


Madame de Pompadour, the dearest friend of 
young Frederick the Great, and fast becoming the 
most astonishing man in Europe, entering into the 
dull room, full of liveliness and animation, ay, and 
full too of real kindness and sympathy, while the 
invalid sat by the fireside listening silently awhile, 
and then striking across the Master's brilliant 
volubility with some quiet truth which he had 
long proved and pondered. That he found Vol- 
taire's conversation a powerful stimulus to his 
own mind, and a very real delight, is not doubt- 
ful. There are few Yoltaires in the world, and it 
was one of Vauvenargues' misfortunes that, save 
Victor Mirabeau, he had known scarcely anyone 
who was his intellectual equal. 

But if Voltaire roused the mind, Vauvenargues 
strengthened the soul. After his death, Voltaire 
wrote of him that he had always seen him ' the 
most unfortunate and the most tranquil of men.' 
It was this lucky genius of an Arouet who brought 
his fumings and his impatience, his irritableness 
over this, his chagrins about that, for the consola- 
tion of the man to whose sufferings his own had 
been as a drop in the ocean. Vauvenargues always 
seems the elder of the two, as it were. He was as 
certainly the wiser, as he was certainly the far 
inferior genius. 

What were his thoughts when those few friends 


had left him? It is on their testimony that he 
never uttered a complaining or a bitter word. 
His writings contain not an angry line — not one 
rebellion against God and Fate. It was the happy 
people who grumbled — perhaps it always is. Once, 
only once, there is a striving against destiny. In 
a moment of relaxation from bodily pain he wrote 
to an intimate friend, 'I have need of all your 
affection, my dear Saint-Vincens : all Provence is 
in arms, and I am here at my fireside.' He went 
on to offer his feeble help to the service he had 
loved, and to beg for the smallest post in his old 
active career. 

But in a second came realisation. He was too 
ill to be of any use. Only thirty-two, he saw life 
slipping from him, and leaving him at that fireside 
a wreck, only fit for the hulks. But he bore ' his 
dark hour unseen,' and troubled no man with his 

His disease gained on him daily now. For the 
last year he was too ill to write. How far harder 
to die bravely by inches, unable even to do one's 
work, than to rush a smihng hero upon the swords 
in a glorious moment of exaltation, unweakened 
by disease, and uplifted by the applause of just 
men and of one's own heart ! 

Vauvenargues saw death coming slowly while 
it was yet a great way off, and was not afraid. 


No saint this, beholding in fervid ecstasy the vision 
of a world to come ; but a strong man who had 
done his best with the world he had, and had 
written of that unknown future only in patient 
hope. ' My passions and thoughts die but to be 
born again : every night I die on my bed but to 
take again new strength and freshness: this ex- 
perience of death reassures me against the decay 
and the dissolution of my body/ 

He had lived to do his duty and to think of 
others, and thus he died. 

The date was May 28, 1747, and the period 
one of the least honourable in the life of his friend 
Voltaire. But from his sycophancy of Pope 
and King, from a foul and noisy Court, from 
feverish bickerings with his Madame du Ch^telet, 
and the coarse worldliness of his old Duchesse du 
Maine, Yauvenargues' death recalled him to his 
truer self, and roused him to the real work of 
his life. No other loss he ever suffered, it is 
said, affected him more profoundly. 

If the fact that Yauvenargues loved him bears 
high testimony to the character of Yoltaire, the 
virtue of Yauvenargues, like the virtue of Addison, 
may well give ' reputation to an age.' 

Flippant and false, at once supremely clever 
and supremely silly, the eighteenth century, to 
whom Duty was a mockery and Wit was a god, 


is in some sort redeemed by the brave, silent life, 
and the high ideals he proved practical and not 
visionary by fulfilling himself, of this soldier 

While of all the Brothers of Progress, Yau- 
venargues alone approached Truth as a suppliant, 
and thus gained, surely, the nearest vision of her 



In the most sociable city, in the most sociable 
age in the history of the world, there is one man 
who stands out as the host par excellence. In the 
Kue Eoyale at Paris and in his country house at 
Grandval, near Charenton, Baron d'Holbach enter- 
tained for more than thirty years the wit and the 
celebrity of all nations. His name runs like a 
thread through the English memoirs and letters 
of the mid-eighteenth century. There was not a 
Frenchman or a Frenchwoman of fame and fashion 
who had not dined at the Eue Eoyale on the 
immortal Thursdays and Sundays, or driven down 
from Paris to Grandval for a few days of a com- 
pany and a conversation unequalled and, perhaps, 

But it is not only or chiefly as the Host of 
All the World that d'Holbach is remarkable. 
He was the ' maitre d' hotel of philosophy.' Vol- 
taire, banned and exiled, could only encourage 

From a Portrait in the Musee CoiuU, Cliantilhj. 


his children from lonely Cirey or far Geneva. 
D'Holbach was here, in the midst of them. 

Comfortable, cultured, liberal, the freest of 
all free thinkers, and yet always in the smiling 
good favour of the authorities, not shy and retir- 
ing like d'Alembert, not wild and imprudent like 
Diderot, without a profession to distract him from 
his appointed metier^ with a well-stocked mind, 
an enormous income, a fine library, a pretty wife, 
a first-rate cook, and an admirable cellar — why, 
here was the man intended by Fate to be the link 
to bind us together and to make for us a meeting- 
place, a common ground, where, in words to be 
first appHed only to the Head of our Party, 

In very wantonness of childish mirth 

We puffed Bastilles, and thrones, and shrines away, 
Insulted Heaven, and liberated earth. 

Was it for good or evil ? Who shall say ? 

Paul-Henri-Thiry d'Holbach was born in 1723 
at Heidelsheim, in the Palatinate. His father, said 
Jean Jacques Eousseau when he had quarrelled 
with the son, was a parvenu. Another of Paul- 
Henri's guests announced that his host was called 
Baron because he was ' of German origin, had a 
small estate in Westphalia, and an income of sixty 
thousand livres.* Very little is known with cer- 
tainty of his family. He was brought up in Paris, 


and was from the first French of the French, 
Parisian of the Parisians. He seems to have visited 
Germany as a very young man, and to have studied 
natural science there. He made his bow to the 
literary world by translating German scientific 
works into French. At his death Grimm wrote 
in the ' Literary Correspondence ' that the rapid 
progress natural history and chemistry had made 
for thirty years in France was largely owing to 
the Baron d'Holbach. 

As a young man the Baron was what he 
remained all his life — a compiler, an annotator, 
a transcriber, rather than the possessor of any 
great original talent of his own. Boy and man he 
had in perfection that gift which surely makes 
for human happiness more than any other single 
quality — a devoted love of learning. He was 
always rich enough to buy the books and the 
leisure to gratify that love. He lived in an age 
and in the midst of brilliantly accomplished men 
and women. He should have found life delightful. 
He did. A serene, easy, generous nature, troubled 
by no agitating ambitions, everything seems to have 
fallen out from the first according to his modest 
desires. For him, and for him alone among 
Voltaire's co-operators, the path to light and 
knowledge flowered pleasantly all the way. The 
others look out eagerly from their portraits — 


furrowed foreheads and burning eyes — or with 
faces noble and sad, hke d'Alembert or Condorcet. 
Only the good Baron is seated at his ease in his 
pleasant, sumptuous garden, surveying life calmly 
and leisurely. Which things are a parable. 

In 1752 or 3 753, when he was about thirty 
years old, he began writing articles for that Ency- 
clopaedia which set on almost all its other contri- 
butors the ban of Government ill-favour. Only 
Paul-Henri — writing always judiciously under a 
pseudonym — gained nothing but pleasure and ap- 
probation from his excellent papers on mineralogy 
and chemistry. He formed the happiest life-long 
friendships with his fellow-writers in that im- 
mortal book. He married a pretty and charming 
wife. Mademoiselle d'Aine. She died, in August 
1754, after a very brief married life. D'Holbach 
travelled abroad with Grimm for a while. 

In 1755, he obtained a special dispensation 
from the Pope, and married his deceased wife's 
sister. Mademoiselle Charlotte-Suzanne d'Aine, 
and began to live with her a life which presented 
the very rare combination of perfect domestic con- 
tentment and the most brilliant social success. 

In the very heart and core of Paris, Kue 
Eoyale hutte Saint-Eoch, the Baron held in his 
town house what Eousseau calls the 'club hol- 
bachique,' Diderot ' the synagogue of the Eue 


Eoyale/ and Garat ' the Institute of France before 
there was one.' Here, at two o'clock every Sun- 
day and Thursday, unless the d'Holbachs were in 
the country, their friends were certain to find a 
free and affluent hospitality, the most intellectual 
society of the capital, the most distinguished 
foreigners who visited it, a host as liberal in idea 
as in the very good cheer to which he made his 
guests welcome, and the most daring speculative 
conversation of the eighteenth century. 

But, after all, it was not in the Eue Eoyale 
that d'Holbach and his friends found their most 
characteristic setting. Grandval, near Charenton, 
remains not only the most influential salon of the 
age, the great headquarters of a great party and the 
arsenal in which were forged the armaments which 
destroyed a king, a dynasty, and a state religion, 
but also the country house of the period. 

When Talleyrand, in that much quoted phrase, 
declared that no one knew how delightful a thing 
life could be unless he had belonged to the upper 
classes before the Eevolution, he might have been 
thinking of the life at Grandval in particular. 

There was a fine and charming chdteaii, and 
the most delightful of gardens. Grandval was just 
near enough to Paris, and just far enough away — 
which is to say, it was absolute country, within 
easy reach of town, in an age when the suburb 


was not, or, at least, when the social drawbacks 
comprehended in the word 'suburban' had no 
existence. The estate actually belonged to Madame 
d'Aine, d'Holbach's mother-in-law, who was as 
' lively as any romp of fifteen,' always thoroughly 
enjoying herself, determined her guests should do 
the same, and with the rare wisdom to leave them 
to do it in their own way. 

Madame d'Holbach was pretty, gay, and charm- 
ing. She played on the lute, adored her husband 
and children, and hated philosophy. If her guests 
like to talk it — and they are always talking it — 
well, by all means, so they shall ! Live and let 
live, do as you like come what may — these would 
have been the Grandval rules, if it had ever 
bothered itself to have anything so tiresome as 

The d'Holbach children were adorable — or des- 
patched to governesses and servants if they even 
threatened to become less than adorable. There 
were two little boys and a couple of little girls, the 
elder 'as pretty as a cherub,' said Diderot, and 
the younger ' a ball of fat, all pink and white.' 

Then there was an ami de la maison, a house- 
hold fixture, a chimney-corner habitue — a Scotch- 
man named Hope, and nicknamed Pere Hoop — 
a shrivelled, withered, pessimistic person, who 
sufiered, or said he suffered, from ' Ufe-weariness ' 


and bad health, who was an excellent foil to what 
Sterne called the 'joyous sett' in which he found 
himself, and the perpetual and dismally good- 
natured butt of Madame d'Aine's rippling jokes. 

The Baron had all the virtues of the host. He 
was not only rich and generous — with that cook 
and cellar beyond reproach. In those days to 
be a perfect entertainer something more even 
than this was required. An agreeable talker, and 
a still more agreeable listener, really learned, but 
with the most pleasing human weakness for a 
little scandal, as easy-going as his mother-in-law 
and his wife, entirely simple in manner, with no 
faintest touch of pretension or affectation, a hon 
vivant in the pleasantest and most harmless sense 
of the phrase — who would not delight to have 
been among his guests ? 

There were generally three or four of them 
staying in the house, and sometimes very many 
more. Diderot was here often for weeks together, 
and sometimes for months. He had a special bed- 
room always reserved for him. In d'Holbach's 
most intimate confidence, his abundance, fecun- 
dity, and inspiration were in piquant contrast to 
the Baron's calm learning and well-regulated sense. 
Here too came, but not very often, Diderot's 
partner in the Encyclopaedia, d'Alembert. Too 
shy and retiring to enjoy Grandval's freedom and 


liveliness as a recreation, d'Alembert's work for 
his party was not to be advanced, as his brethren 
certainly advanced their work, by speculative talk 
in clever company — but always in solitude, in 
silence, and in simplicity. 

Turgot, like d'Alembert, was from time to time 
a guest, but a rare one. Turgot was beginning to 
Do, what most of his friends were still discussing 
How to do. 

Little Galiani skipped down very often from 
the Italian Embassy, and the Paris he worshipped, 
to amuse the Baron's house-party by telling it those 
stories, 'like dramas,' which no one ever found 
too long. ' That man is a pantomime from his 
head to his feet,' said admiring Diderot, watching 
him. After 1761, the heavy Abb^ Morellet, the 
would-be refuter of Galiani's wit on the Corn 
Laws, was constantly at the Baron's ' developing 
my theories on public economy ' to his own great 
satisfaction. His audience have not left their 
feelings on record. 

Grimm, Diderot's dear Damon, was here very 
often, with that slightly nauseous affection for 
his Pythias, which, said the frankly vain Denis, 
made d'Holbach jealous. For jealous, one may 
be allowed to read ' disgusted.' 

Grimm's chere amie, Madame d'Epinay, some- 
times accompanied him. Her sister-in-law. 


Madame d'Houdetot, often drove down to Grand- 
val with her superb Marquis de Saint-Lambert 
in her train. Pitted deeply with the smallpox, 
with a cast in her eye, and a little given to too 
much wine, the secret of Madame d'Houdetot's 
charm is hard to be found by this generation. 
But in that one, it was not only Eousseau who 
discovered it to his cost. Saint-Lambert's ' faith 
unfaithful kept him falsely true ' to her for so 
many years that it came to be considered quite 
praiseworthy, and he would have been admitted 
to Grandval as Madame d'Houdetot's constant 
lover, if his passion for Madame du Chatelet 
and his poem on the ' Seasons ' had not given 
him the entree as a literary character as well. 

His rival, Jean Jacques Eousseau, was also an 
habitue at d'Holbach's. The peaceful Baron could 
agree even with that fretful child of genius, until 
one unlucky day, when, Grandval having suffered 
gladly and politely a cure's reading of his own 
stupid tragedy, Jean Jacques bounces furiously out 
of his armchair, seizes the manuscript from its 
author, and throws it to the ground — ' Do you not 
see these people are laughing at you ? Go back to 
your curacy.* The kindhest and politest of hosts 
tries to smooth the ruflBed plumage of both play- 
wright and Eousseau. If the cure was appeased 
is not a matter of moment. Jean Jacques burst 


out of the house in a rage, and despite all the efforts 
of Grimm and of Diderot, as well as of d'Holbach 
himself, never returned to it. 'He imagined all 
his misfortunes our doing . . . and thought we 
had incited ... all Europe against him,' says 
Grimm. He did try, however, to make some 
amends to his good host by portraying him in 
the 'New Eloisa' in the character of Wolmar — 
' benevolent, active, patient, tranquil, friendly, 
and trustful.' 

Marmontel came here very often: and that 
dreadful, garrulous old bore, the Abbe Eaynal, 
was constantly to be found seeking ideas among 
the Baron's guests for his 'History of the Two 
Indies,' which received, and did not deserve, the 
advertisement of burning. 

The cautious Buffon soon edged away from this 
salon^ as he also edged away from the gatherings 
of Helvetius. The monstrous things these people 
talk about might come to the ears of the authorities 
— accompanied by the fact that the politic author 
of the ' Natural History ' was among the talkers ! 
Helvetius himself was often at d'Holbach's, until 
the storm of fury and hatred which assailed his 
book ' On the Mind ' banished him, astounded and 
embittered, to his estates in Burgundy. 

Madame Geoffrin, with her prim httle cap tied 
under her firm old chin, drove down to play 


picquet with the Baron and to scold Diderot for 
neglecting his wife. 

It was partly owing to the influence of 
Diderot — himself greatly bitten by the Anglomania 
just creeping into fashion — that the Baron enter- 
tained Englishmen so largely both in Paris and in 
the country. 

In the years 1762-64-66 Sterne accepted the 
hospitality of the host, whom he called ' the great 
protector of wits and the sqavans who are no wits,' 
to so large an extent that he could say the Baron's 
house was as his own. To be sure, d'Holbach's 
'joyous sett' must have admirably suited this 
Parson Yorick, who had 'no religion but in 
appearance,' and a domestic morality very little 
better than the worst of the Baron's French 

The ' broad, unmeaning face ' of Hume, the 
historian, was sometimes to be seen at d'Holbach's 
table, where he found himself for the first time 
with thinkers not too narrow, but too emancipated, 
for his liking. It was the Baron who, speaking 
from experience, warned Hume against nourish- 
ing in his bosom a serpent like Eousseau, and 
from d'Holbach's house, says Hume's biographer, 
Burton, that the story of the famous quarrel 
between Hume and Eousseau spread all over 
Prance ' in a moment.* 


David Garrick came to Grandval, and delighted 
an age and a company passionately devoted to 
histrionic talent. A sprightly Madame Eiccoboni 
used to write accounts of d'Holbach's society to 
the actor when he had gone back to England ; and 
whenever she saw the Baron looked bored or 
worried, made that expression a text on which to 
moralise on the worthlessness of riches. 

The Baron did not often appear anything but 
placid, however, and there are very few of his 
guests who even hint at anything in himself or his 
gatherings which was not smooth and delightful. 

Horace Walpole, indeed, talks of 'dull d'Ol- 
bach's.* But then Horace was the intimate friend of 
Madame du DefFand, who loathed ' les philosophes ' 
and all their ways and works, and on one occasion 
at least was so unlucky as to find himself at one 
of the Baron's dinner parties, not only the solitary 
Englishman out of a party of twelve, but next to 
that tedious Eaynal. 'I dreaded opening my 
mouth in French before so many people and so 
many servants,' says Horace ; and to avoid being 
bored by the ' Two Indies,' he made signs to Eaynal 
that he was deaf. After dinner, Eaynal discovered 
the trick, and naturally was not pleased. 

John Wilkes, with his ugly face, his flaming 
past, and his irresistible charm, also sat at the 
Baron's cosmopolitan board; as did Benjamin 


Franklin, Lord Shelburne, and Priestley — Non- 
conformist, chemist, and one of the founders ot 
modern scientific criticism. 

Some of these people, of course, only dined, 
or were merely invited to spend a long day in 
the Grandval grounds and gardens; but many 
became part of the house party for days, like 
Galiani, for weeks, like Grimm, for months, like 
Diderot, or for ever, like Father Hoop. 

In the forenoon, the guests were left entirely 
to their own devices, and unless by special arrange- 
ment, never met each other or their host until 
dinner-time at half-past one or two. Some of 
them had arrived with a chef-d'oeuvre in their 
pockets — or, it might be, up their sleeves. Here, 
in the pleasant solitude of these morning hours, 
Galiani, no doubt, was ' settling the question of the 
Corn Laws,' Grimm engrossed with his ' Literary 
Correspondence,' and Hoop arranging his pes- 
simism into a regular system. (Madame d'Aine 
had thoughtfully provided Hoop with a bedroom 
overlooking the moat, so that he could at any 
moment put his principles into practice and throw 
himself into it.) Diderot, beside his open windows 
and with the solace of a cup of tea, wrote for 
Mademoiselle Volland those descriptions of life at 
Grandval to which all narrators of it are indebted. 

As for the Baron — the Baron always seemed 


to have plenty to do in that magnificent library, 
where he could invariably find chapter and verse 
for the maddest of Diderot's theories, but where 
the actual nature of his occupation was known 
only to Diderot himself, to a certain very useful 
friend called Naigeon, who, having been painter 
and sculptor, had finally settled into a philoso- 
pher, and to La Grange, the d'Holbach children's 

It is charitable to suppose that the women 
also performed their duties in the morning, 
since it is certain they performed none at any 
other time of day. But in this age, if a woman 
was witty and charming, her metier was con- 
sidered to be fulfilled, and she not only did 
nothing practical for the good of humanity, but, 
better still, never even felt she ought to be doing 
something. Madame d'Holbach had her lute and 
her embroidery frame, the kindest of clever hus- 
bands, those engaging babies, and a perpetual 
house party. What more could be expected of 
her ? Of Madame d'Aine, it is not recorded 
that she had any other role than that of adding to 
the gaiety of her household. 

At about half-past one, then, the work of the 
day was done, and hosts and guests met in the 
salon, and went in to dinner — the famous dinner, 
exquisitely arranged and appointed; servants 

K 2 


numerous, noiseless, and perfectly au fait in their 
duties ; the most delicate wines, and the most 
irreproachable of chefs. A couple of Englishmen, 
perhaps, and half a dozen French men and women 
had driven down to it from Paris. There were 
generally from twelve to fifteen persons at table, 
and sometimes more. Good as the fare was — 
much too good for the health of some of the 
diners — ' the only intoxication ' at this table ' was 
of ideas.' 

The talk ranged from the history and customs 
of the Chinese to the final annihilation of the 
human race. Sometimes it lit on ' Clarissa Har- 
lowe,' and the company divided itself into For and 
Against Sentiment as understood by the bookseller 
Eichardson. Occasionally the meal was given up to 
buffoonery, and Madame d'Aine led the way with 
jokes of such a character that if Morellet is con- 
scientious in declaring in his ' Memoirs ' that all 
freedoms, except freedoms as to speculation, were 
banished from d'Holbach's gatherings, he must 
certainly have been deaf. One day, a story going 
the round of the Paris cafes, holds the table 
curious and laughing. The Baron, says Grimm, 
was as amusingly credulous of gossip as he was 
sceptical of everything else. Another day, it is a 
question of ton or of mode ; and a third, of art or 
of literature. 


There was scarcely one of d'Holbach's convives 
— there was not one of Voltaire's co-operators — 
who did not contribute, at one time or another, 
a masterpiece, or at least a Book of the Moment, 
for d'Holbach's table to discuss. 

In 1755, it is the famous article on ' Existence * 
in the Encyclopaedia, by young Turgot, our shy, 
rare guest, which brings the heads of the older 
Encyclopaedists together over the walnuts and the 
wine, and inspires them with prophecies of a great 
future for its quiet author. Three or four years 
later, the great suppression of that Encyclopaedia 
itself inflames the passions of the party, goads 
Diderot to fury, and d'Alembert to despair. 

In 1759, the ' Candide ' of the Master sets the 
table in a roar of delight. ' The Social Contract ' 
of our impossible, impassioned Jean Jacques 
sounds for us, in 1762, the trumpet-note of battle 
in that sonorous opening sentence : ' Man is born 
free, and is everywhere in chains.' The next 
year, the guests give their ever-generous admira- 
tion to a far wiser work — one of the mightiest 
weapons ever forged against ' the greatest of human 
curses ' — ' The Treatise on Tolerance.' In 1765, 
d'Alembert comes out of his shell again with his 
' History of the Destruction of the Jesuits ; ' while 
Diderot is for ever finger deep in ink — up to the 
neck in ideas. 


Only, at the head of the table, d'Holbach, host 
and president, always applauding, encouraging, 
(and sometimes also financing) the producers, 
himself produces nothing. Yet it is not because 
he does not go, as it were, with his guests. He 
goes far beyond them. Here, the women of the 
party left the table after dinner as they do in 
England, to exchange what Diderot called their 
'little confidences.' Then the conversation took, 
not the kind of freedoms which Morellet declared 
he did not hear, but speculative liberties which, said 
he, ' would have brought down thunderbolts on the 
house a hundred times if they ever fell for that.' 

At d'Holbach's table, with d'Holbach pushing, 
urging, with a quiet, invincible persistence, with 
Diderot waving the flag, leading, pleading, in- 
citing, the 'club holbachique' dragged every 
dogma, every so-called fact of existence, every 
creed, into court before them ; judged by the 
tribunal of their own reason, and cast away all 
that failed to satisfy it, as fagots for the burning. 

Grandval did not speculate, as did Voltaire and 
his guests at Ferney, on the attributes of God and 
the nature of the Soul. It began where he left 
off: asked not. What is God ? but. Is there a God ? 
not, What is the Soul ? but. Have we a Soul ? and 
in each case answered. No. 

Gagged for hundreds of years, Grandval used 


the newly seized freedom of thought and speech as 
a very Httle later the mob used its social and 
political liberty. The bloody extremes of the 
Terror, and the speculative extremes of d'Hol- 
bach's table, were alike the result of long slavery 
and repression. 

That d'Holbach at least was strongly and 
honestly persuaded of the truth of his own unbelief, 
and was convinced that he did well to destroy in 
men those faiths which, looking back on history, 
he saw were responsible for the intolerable miseries 
of religious persecution, is not doubtful. D'Hol- 
bach was an honest man. It is true, indeed, that 
he was not one of the highest intellectual capacity. 
His seems to have been just the kind of clever 
mind — much more common among women than 
men — which is the dupe of its own cleverness, and 
easily led by it into absurdities which both wise 
people, and very simple ones, detect and avoid. 

Set the problem of deriving Everything from 
Nothing, it is not marvellous that the Grandval 
talkers descended sometimes to the wildest non- 
sense. Horace Walpole said acidly that they soon 
turned his head with ' a new system of antediluvian 
deluges which they have invented to prove the 
eternity of matter. . . . Nonsense for nonsense, 
I prefer the Jesuits.' No wonder poor little GaUani 
(he was an Abbe, though he very often forgot it) 


fled to the more circumspect gatherings of Madame 
Geoffrin, that the wise Turgot also turned away 
from Grandval, and d'Alembert drew back from 
an atheism so positive and arrogant. 

By the time the philosophers joined the women 
it was four, five, or even six o'clock. It does take 
some hours to construct Man and the Universe 
out of Chaos, with nothing but blind Force to 
help us ! Then came for the host himself, and 
some few of the other men of the party, a walk 
in the beautiful gardens. Most of the Baron's 
guests, however, sat indoors with the women, 
Nature and exercise being both greatly out of 
fashion in the eighteenth century. 

When the walkers returned the evening was 
drawing in, and there were lights and cards on the 
table. Some of the guests rested on long chairs. 
Some played picquet, some billiards, some tric-trac. 
Some visited their host's picture gallery or his 
famous cabinet of natural history. He was himself 
always pleasant, courteous, cheerful. He loved to 
rally gently ' the old mummy,' as he called Father 
Hoop, and, perhaps, other Fathers, certain Jesuit 
priests, whom, in defiance of all his own principles, 
he generously made free of his house. 

Old Madame d'Aine entertained the whole 
company with her perfectly indecorous and per- 
fectly good-natured wit. Madame d'Holbach, 


always ' douce et honnete,' ' tres aimable/ and 
exquisitely dressed (the description is Madame 
d'Epinay's), accepted her mother's buffooneries 
with absolute complacency. 

Coarse as this society was in its speech — 
worse as it was in its easy condonation of vice 
than the worst social sets of our own day — 
in one respect at least it was immeasurably 
superior. Except for an occasional desultory 
game proposed by their hosts, the guests at 
Grandval were expected to bring, and did bring, 
their own entertainment with them in their own 
heads. To be bored would have been to confess 
oneself stupid. For the costly freaks of amuse- 
ment, the elaborately idiotic devices of modern 
times to prevent the visitor having to fall back for 
an instant on his own resources or inteUigence, 
Grandval had no need. If materialism was its 
creed, there was, as has been justly said, a great 
deal of ' indirect spiritualism ' in its practice. Its 
lengthy dinners were feasts of reason (in spite of 
those intellectual extravagances) as well as of 
costly meats and wines, and the ill- flavoured jests 
were only interludes in the midst of brilliant and 
fruitful talk on literature, history, politics, and 
the new world beginning for France. 

Supper came about nine — 'wit, gaiety, and 
champagne,' Diderot described it. Then more 


conversation, until sometimes the party were still 
ardently philosophising with their bedroom candle- 
sticks in their hands. 

When d'Holbach had been entertaining, ap- 
parently without a break, for at least ten years, he 
took what seemed to his friends the foolhardy, not 
to say desperate, resolve of crossing the Channel. 
To bury himself in what Diderot called ' the depths 
of England' for two months is a very different 
thing, the Baron will find, from entertaining English- 
men (and those quite the most enlightened of their 
species) in Paris ! He did find it so. If England 
delighted Voltaire, soothed wounded Helvetius, 
and pleased even critical Grimm, she thoroughly 
disgusted d'Holbach. He gave Diderot his vivid 
first impressions of her, and Diderot retailed them, 
red-hot, for Sophie VoUand and for posterity. 

The Baron was hospitably received and enter- 
tained in this island by a rich and generous host, 
whose name has not transpired ; he had the best of 
health during his visit, and he paid that visit in 
August, when even the British climate can be very 
tolerable; he had the pleasure of calling on his 
guest, Garrick ; he went to Oxford and Cambridge ; 
travelled in some of the prettiest English counties, 
and he was bored — to extinction. 

Our confessedly bad manners he found worse 
than anyone had ever found them before, and 


was dreadfully disgusted with, people 'on whose 
faces one never sees friendliness, confidence, or 
gaiety, but which all wear the inscription, " What 
is there in common between you and me ? " ' The 
aristocracy struck him as cold and haughty, the 
common people as rough and violent. As for the 
dinner parties, ' where people sit according to their 
rank, and formality and ceremony are beside each 
guest,' after the gracious ease of Grandval, the Baron 
may be forgiven for finding them intolerable. 

Then the public entertainments : ' This people 
is sad and melancholy, especially in places built 
for pleasure. You can hear a pin drop. A hun- 
dred stiff and silent women promenade round 
an orchestra discoursing the most delicious 
music,' and the promenade can only be compared 
to ' the processions of the Egyptians round the 
mausoleum of Osiris.' 

Then the gambling: 'Englishmen lose in- 
credible sums in perfect silence. By thirty they 
have exhausted all the pleasures, even beneficence. 
Ennui . . . conducts them to the Thames, unless 
they prefer a pistol.' 

At the universities, the good Baron found many 
' rich do-nothings drinking and sleeping half the 
day;' at Court, corruption; among the people, 
no public education and great inequality of riches. 
The King, to be sure, was powerful chiefly to do 


good, but still he was much the master. With 
regard to religion, 'the Christian religion,' said 
the Baron, 'is almost extinct in England/ This 
was an advantage from his point of view. But 
then, though there were innumerable Deists, like 
Hume, there was not an atheist, or not an avowed 
one. The travelling facilities he praised — there 
were always post-horses in plenty; and at the 
meals at inns, he found himself ' served promptly, 
but with no affability.' It must be owned that 
now and again the Baron has us on the hip. 

But, after all, there was very great good 
in England: it made one so delighted to get 
back to France. D'Holbach, who had left 
Paris about August 1, 1765, had returned there 
by September 20. He dined that same evening 
with his dear Diderot and a whole colony of 
English, ' who had left their morgue and sadness 
on the banks of the Thames.' 

Two years after his return, there appeared, 
not only to the horror of Court, Church, and 
Government, but to the horror of the philosophers 
also, a book called ' Christianity Unveiled, or an 
Examination of the Principles and Effects of 
Eevealed Eeligion.' 

It purported to be by a person called Boulanger. 
It asserted Christianity to be unnecessary for the 
maintenance of law and order ; declared its dogmas 


incoherent, its morals fit only to make enthusiasts 
and fanatics, and its political results infinitely fatal 
and disastrous. 

Voltaire fell upon the thing tooth and nail. 
' Impiety Unveiled,' he called it. It was not Chris- 
tianity, but the perversions of Christianity, with 
which he quarrelled. In the margin of his own 
copy of the book he wrote criticisms as scathing 
as they are brief. That it was both discussed and 
condemned at d'Holbach's table, is practically 
certain. Galiani at least professed Christianity; 
Turgot practised it. There are many men — there 
were some even round d'Holbach's board — who, 
having themselves relinquished a faith, are yet 
greatly averse to hearing that faith blasphemed ; 
and who would fain leave for the souls of others 
the consolations their reason denies to their own. 
D'Holbach, to be sure, would commend the thing. 
' A proselytising atheist,' as his friends had long 
known him to be — he must approve this daring 
effort to make men think as he did. 

Soon came talk of other books — from the same 
hand it might be — certainly from a hand as bold. 
In 1767 appeared a pamphlet called ' The Mind of the 
Clergy ; ' in 1768 ' Priests Unmasked,' and ' Portable 
Theology.' The last was condemned to be burnt. 

Then came whispers of yet another work on. the 
same lines, but on a far larger scale, written with an 


even greater daring, with ' the zeal of a missionary 
for atheism,' with a passion, a fanaticism, an enthu- 
siasm, usually associated with the ' heated pulpi- 
teer ' of some narrow sect ; and yet having in it, too, 
something of the serenity, the calm and confident 
faith of the believer wholly satisfied with his 
belief. Who has written it? AM. Mirabaud, 
Perpetual Secretary to the French Academy, is to 
be the name, it is said, on the title-page. But the 
real author ? Diderot, whose Encyclopaedic labours 
bring him in touch with all the literary men in 
Paris, is impulsively positive that he has not the 
slightest idea. Naigeon — Naigeon, the Baron's 
factotum — is abroad on some business of the Baron's 
and cannot be appealed to. Most of the company 
condemn the book unseen. The extremists of the 
party are always the worst enemies the party has 
to dread. At the head of his table, fingering his 
glass thoughtfully, the Baron, with his bene- 
volent, leisurely air, is only following his usual 
custom in saying little and listening much. 

In August 1770, there was published in London 
and Amsterdam ' The System of Nature, or The 
Laws of the Physical and Moral World,' by Mira- 
baud, Perpetual Secretary to the French Academy. 

The best kept literary secret in history is the 
authorship of the ' Letters of Junius,' for that 
remains a secret still. But the Baron d'Holbach's 


authorship of ' The System of Nature ' is certainly 
among the most piquant concealments in literature. 

He had begun by sitting and listening to 
criticisms, mostly adverse, on his ' Christianity 
Unveiled' and the pamphlets which followed it, 
which were all from his pen. Many people start 
a literary career under as thick a veil of anonymity. 
A few have died still under the disguise. But no 
book has ever attracted such howls of rage and 
imprecation, such a storm of universal loathing 
and opprobrium as did 'The System of Nature,' 
while its author sat in perfect peace and comfort, 
beloved by all his fellows, safe, unsuspected, and 
serene. D'Holbach, said Grimm long after, when 
d'Holbach was dead and the secret out, never ran 
any danger from his books, save the danger of 
being bored by them. 

Naigeon, La Grange, and Diderot were in his 
confidence. Diderot was more than in it. To 
most of the Baron's works — certainly to ' The 
System of Nature' — he lent some of the colour 
and fire of his genius. Poor Diderot was always 
suspect of anything rash and extreme. 'The 
System of Nature' was published quite early 
in August. On the 10th of that month, Denis 
slipped off to Langres and the baths of Bour- 
bonne. The Baron went on having dinner parties. 
On the 18th, the book was condemned to be burnt. 


The Baron continued to dine in peace. Then, as 
men read it, and passed it secretly from one to the 
other, the murmurs of horror and hatred swelled 
to a roar — the roar of the great multitude, always 
deafening and terrible. Above it, d'Holbach 
heard, close, distinct, and scathing, the bitter 
condemnations of his own guests and friends. He 
went on dining to that accompaniment. 

From Ferney, Voltaire pronounced the work 
' a philippic against God ' and ' a sin against 
nature ; ' swore it had wrought irreparable harm to 
philosophy ; passionately refuted it in his article 
on ' God ' in the Philosophical Dictionary ; while 
it wrung from him, in a letter to the Due de 
Eichelieu, that famous confession ; ' / think it very 
good to sustain the doctrine of the existence of a 
punishing and rewarding God : society has need 
of this opinion.' Galiani declared ' this Mirabaud ' 
to be ' the Abbe Terrai of metaphysics : he causes 
the bankruptcy of knowledge, of happiness, and 
of the human mind.' La Harpe called it 'this 
infamous book.' Young Goethe said he fled 
from it as from a spectre. It caused Frederick 
the Great to break with the philosophic party. 
Grimm, indeed — but this was after d'Holbach's 
death, when it was no longer dangerous to hold 
such opinions — praised the purity of its author's 
intentions, and the passages of 'imposing elo- 


quence ' the book contained — though these, he 
added, Grimm-hke, ' were by Diderot.' 

Who reads ' The System of Nature * now ? It 
never was in any sense a great book. But it cer- 
tainly was one of the three or four most famous 
books of an age richer in them than any other age 
in history. It was, after all, simply the logical 
outcome, the natural, though the extreme result 
of the rationalistic criticism of the fifty or sixty 
years which preceded it. The philosophers had 
sought to define God. D'Holbach said aloud, 
what the fool of David's time said in his heart, 
' There is no God.' 

In Part I. he disposed of Kings as efiete, 
luxurious, war-making, and tyrannical. Then he 
expounded his views on Happiness. Men will 
never be happy till they are enlightened, and 
never enlightened till they have ceased to believe 
in a God. Study Nature, and obey Nature's laws 
— that is the way to felicity, if way there be. 
Then he went on to Mind. All Mind is Matter. 
Of Free Will he denied the existence, as twelve 
years earlier his friend Helvetius had denied it in 
his book ' On the Mind.' Still, even if one cannot 
help one's wrong-doing, punishments there must 
be, for the good of society ; only such punish- 
ments should be reformative and never cruel. In 
his protest against torture and the brutahsing 



effect of public executions, one sees for a moment 
the man behind the book. With regard to the 
Immortality of the Soul, since there is no such 
thing as soul, it cannot be immortal. The false 
doctrine of Hell is useless even as a deterrent 
from sin. 

Part II. contains what is certainly the most 
burning and outspoken attack on the Existence 
of God to be found in literature. That there is 
a Force behind Matter, I admit. He who does 
not admit this, must be a madman. But further 
I will not go. As for morality depending on a 
belief in a Deity — not at all. Nature bids man do 
right as his own best interest. Let each try to 
do his utmost for the greatest good of the greatest 
number, and there stands established a high and 
an unselfish ideal. 

Preached, as these doctrines were, in a style 
not a little vehement and abundant, with much 
Teutonic pomposity and rhetoric, it could soon 
be said of d'Holbach that he had ' accommodated 
atheism to chambermaids and to hairdressers.' 
More learned critics disliked his manner as much 
as his matter. 'Four times too many words in 
the book,' says Voltaire acidly. But the un- 
educated, or the half-educated, prefer both their 
oratory and their literature rich and fruity. 

Simple and learned alike would, or should, 


had they known him, have given the author credit 
for the certain fact that ' no sordid end, no 
personal consideration, attached him to his dismal 
system.' If his anonymity shielded him from 
danger, it kept from him fame and celebrity too, 
and gave him the wholesome, but not soothing, 
experience of hearing expressed to his face criti- 
cisms of the kind generally only made behind 
one's back. He did not gain even the painful 
glories of martyrdom ; and had money been an 
object to him, by the publication of such works 
as his, he can only have lost it. 

Long before the tumult ' The System of 
Nature ' raised had passed away, the Baron was 
busy supplementing it. In 1772 appeared ' Good 
Sense, or Natural Ideas opposed to Supernatural 
Ideas,' which was a sort of simplification of ' The 
System of Nature.' It was burnt. Then appeared 
' The Social System,' which tried to establish a rule 
of morality totally unfounded on religion. That 
was burnt too. Then there was a translation from 
Hobbes. The last, or one of the last, of d'Holbach's 
pubHshed works was entitled ' Universal Morality, 
or the Duties of Man founded on his Nature.' 
This appeared in 1776. He had the pleasure of 
watching all the bonfires from a distance where 
there was not the least danger of scorching. 

In 1781 one of his daughters was married. 

L 2 


Her father was now fifty-eight years old. Did 
philosophy, as Galiani inquired (Galiani had re- 
turned to Italy in 1769), still eat at his table 
with its old appetite ? Grimm said — in Grimm's 
caustic fashion — that the guests fell off somewhat 
when the Baron had to retrench his expenses to 
establish his children. Some of the convives 
had gone before that, to solve for themselves 
those questions on a future world, and the 
existence of the soul, which they had discussed 
so often. In 1771 died Helvetius ; in 1778 Vol- 
taire himself. In 1783, d'Alembert, who had in- 
deed long ceased to frequent the Baron's society, 
or any society, laid down the burden of his life. 
In the next year, Diderot, the friend of his heart, 
the fruitful inspiration of his work, was called 
away from d'Holbach's side for ever. 

It must have been with this society, as it 
is with all societies at last: the sight of vacant 
chairs stops the mirth, and among the living guests 
glide others, dear and dead. When one has more 
memories than hopes, the time has come to give 
up such gatherings. That time came even to 
the Host of his generation. By his own fireside 
he had to the end the wife he loved. She long 
survived him. He had, too, that tranquil and 
even disposition which is surely one of the best of 
assets — a possession indeed. 


The Baron was as prudent in the time of his 
death as he had been in the conduct of his life. 
He died on January 21 of that annus mirahilis, 
1789. Five years more, and he would have seen 
his own principles enthroned with the Goddess of 
Eeason at Kotre-Dame, and as, in part at least, 
the consequence of her reign, the streets of Paris 
running with blood. Directly after his death, the 
secret of his authorship became public property. 

It is permissible only to think of d'Holbach 
now as his guests and friends thought of him in 
life — not as the author of ' The System of Nature ' 
at all, but as the liberal patron of letters, the best 
and kindliest of good, easy men. One may be 
permitted to hate as bitterly as Voltaire did the 
unreasonableness of his philosophy of pure reason ; 
and yet to regard the philosopher with gratitude 
and appreciation, as the man who played in the 
great intellectual revival of his time one of the 
homeliest, yet one of the most necessary of parts. 

For d'Holbach provided the rendez-vous. 



The great Encyclopaedia of Diderot and d'Alembert 
was to bring light to the people ; the ' Literary- 
Correspondence ' of Melchior Grimm was to bring 
light to kings. The Encyclopsedia was the con- 
ception of those who knew that they were preparing 
mighty changes, but who did not live to see them ; 
the ' Literary Correspondence ' was the work of a 
man whose shrewd eyes foresaw little, but who 
lived to see all. The Encyclopaedia is dead, as a 
great man dies, having finished his work. The 
'Correspondence' — which could not cure those 
royal maladies, blindness, ignorance, and hardness 
of heart — still lives a gay little life as the most 
perfect contemporary record of any literary epoch 
in history. 

In 1753, the sensibilities of sentimental Paris 
were most agreeably touched by the pathetic story 
of a young gentleman who, having had his suit 
rejected by a charming opera-dancer, Mademoiselle 


From an Engraving, after Carmontelle, in the Bibliothdque 

Natianale, Paris. 


Fel, straightway took to his bed and to a trance in 
which he passed whole nights and days, ' without 
speaking, hearing, or answering, as if he were dead.' 
The Abb6 Eaynal and Jean Jacques Eousseau 
constituted themselves his nurses. They were 
both too romantic, and too much the children 
of their time, to try the common-sense expedient 
of leaving the rejected lover severely alone, or of 
throwing a bucket of cold water over him. But 
when Eousseau saw a smile on the doctor's face 
as he left the patient's room, his heart began to 
harden a little. And, sure enough, one fine morn- 
ing up gets the invalid, dresses, resumes his 
ordinary course of life and never again men- 
tions his malady to his nurses — even to thank 

Frederic Melchior Grimm was, however, no 
sentimental fool. He ^ was, indeed, one of the 
most keen-witted of his great nation, though, like 
many other children of the Fatherland, he had 
on the surface of his worldly wisdom a fine layer 
of Teutonic sentimentality. If the Briton finds 
the sentiment mawkish, not so the Frenchman. 
Grimm's extraordinary disease became his pass- 
port into the most exclusive circles in Paris. 

Born at Eatisbon on September 26, 1723, with 
a poor Lutheran pastor for a father, he had always 
known that he must make his own way in life, and 


had always made it. At school he found a useful 
friend in one of Baron Schomberg's sons, and 
continued the friendship at the University of 
Leipzig. When he was still a student there, he 
wrote a play, ' Banise,' which, before he left, he 
was a sufficiently just and astute critic to find 
' pitiable.' On leaving Leipzig he went to live in 
the Schombergs' house, as tutor to his friend's 
younger brother. Frederick the Great had already 
made the French language the fashion ; and as at 
the Schombergs' Grimm heard nothing else, he 
soon learnt to speak and read it. In 1748 came 
the first opportunity of his life ; he took his pupil 
to Paris, and remained there after the boy had 
returned to his family. 

To say that Grimm throughout his existence 
always fell on his feet, would be a misleading 
idiom. He always fell on his head. The moment 
he found himself thrown into a new set of circum- 
stances, his calm judgment skilfully arranged them 
to the very best advantage. At this time he was 
twenty-five years old, rather tall and imposing 
looking, something of a dandy in his dress (his 
enemies declared that he powdered his face and 
scented himself like a woman), with very little 
money in hand, no prospects, and a retrospect of 
that dismal failure ' Banise,' and that ' thin travel- 
ling tutorship.' In a very short time he got 


himself appointed as reader to the Duke of Saxe- 
Gotha. The salary was thin enough here too ; 
but the Duke was a great person, and the Duchess 
was the friend and the correspondent of Voltaire, 
and to be, for the rest of her life, the friend and 
correspondent of Melchior Grimm as well. He 
was not long in finding a situation much more 
lucrative and responsible. 

In 1749, he became secretary, guide, and friend 
to a certain dissipated young dog of a Comte 
de Frise, or Frisen, who was always borrowing 
money of his famous uncle, Marshal Saxe, and 
certainly needed a prudent Grimm to look after 

If Grimm was only, or principally, honest 
because honesty is the best policy, if he did his 
duty because in the long run duty is the surest 
road to happiness, yet the facts remain that he 
did act uprightly, and that he had settled prin- 
ciples, a strict course of conduct and a strong 
line of action, in an age when no motives, good, 
bad, or indifferent, produced such happy results 
in his friends. 

Beneath that veneer of German emotionalism 
he was, perhaps, something cold and selfish, stern 
and reserved. But if he was never ardent, he was 
always faithful ; if he was not generous, he was 
just. He occupied in his life many positions of 


great trust and responsibility, and came out of 
them all with honour. One can love a Diderot, 
but one must needs respect a Grimm. 

He had plenty of work to do in Paris. Besides 
the impossible task of keeping Frisen in order, he 
had his own way and fortune to make and his own 
friends to cultivate. His passion for Mademoiselle 
Pel was not his only introduction to Parisian society. 
Jean Jacques Eousseau (then a brilliant pauper 
copying music for his support and dreaming 
masterpieces of which he had not yet written a 
line) introduced him to d'Holbach and to Madame 
d'fipinay. He soon became fast friends with 
Madame GeofFrin (to whose tranquil common- 
sense his judicious and well-ordered mind par- 
ticularly appealed), with Helvetius, and with 
Marmontel ; he began a life-long friendship with 
Diderot, and once a week at Frisen's house, in the 
Faubourg St. Honore, he gave the most delightful 
bachelor dinner to his friends, played exquisitely 
on the clavecin for their benefit, took their amuse- 
ment at his German-French in perfectly good part, 
and was entirely witty and agreeable, while keep- 
ing always a certain reserve and remaining entirely 
master of the situation. 

In a very short time the poor German tutor 
was one of the most sought after persons in Paris, 
feted and petted by all the great people, and minded 


to live no longer as bear-leader to boys, but by 
his own head and pen. 

His taste for music gave him a golden oppor- 
tunity. Shall we have French music at the opera, 
or Italian? Paris was as hotly divided on the 
question, said Eousseau, as if the affair had been 
one of religion. The French side had all the 
money, the fashion, and the women, and the Italian 
side a very little party of real connoisseurs. Grimm 
joined the Italians and wrote on their behalf, in 
1753, a pamphlet called ' The Little Prophet of 
Boehmischbroda,' in which the style is profanely 
imitated from the prophets of the Old Testament. 
As Madame de Pompadour was on the French side, 
which she protected by force and by summarily 
dismissing the Italian singers on the spot, the 
pamphlet did no harm to French music; but it 
made Grimm famous. Voltaire read it, and asked 
how this Bohemian dares to have more wit than 
We have ? And this Bohemian, having made so 
successful a literary venture in a small part, now 
looked round with his clever eyes for a larger one. 

In 1754, he travelled for a time with d'Holbach, 
who had just lost his wife ; and in the following 
year Frisen, whom Grimm's guardianship had not 
been able to save from the fatal consequences of 
his depravity, died, and left his mentor a free 


In 1755 he began what was to be the work of 
his Kfe and is his true title to glory, the ' Literary 

The idea of communicating to the sovereigns 
of Europe by letter, news of the literature, science, 
and philosophy of Paris, that centre of the world's 
cultivation, was not a new one. In limiting the 
freedom of the press, sovereigns had limited their 
own freedom. Newspapers were official bulletins, 
not daring to utter unacceptable truths or un- 
palatable opinions on any truths. Kings, as well 
as their subjects, yawned over journals of this 
kind. So King Frederick the Great originated the 
idea of paying an intelligent man in Paris to write 
him direct the news and the gossip of the capital. 
Theriot, Voltaire's friend, filled the post very 
unsuccessfully, and Frederick complained bitterly 
that Theriot never had a cold in his head without 
scribbling four pages of rodomontade to tell him 
about it. La Harpe occupied the same position 
to the Czarevitch Paul, and Suard and the Abbe 
Eaynal, Grimm's nurse and friend, to the Duchess 
of Saxe-Gotha. 

The idea was good, but it had been badly 
worked out. As Diderot and d'Alembert quickened 
into mighty life the little Encyclopaedia of Chambers, 
so Grimm breathed vitality into the languishing 
' Literary Correspondence.' He saw in it, first of 


all, the germ of a great career ; but he saw in it, 
too, an influence which, by informing the minds 
of kings, might change the destiny of kingdoms. 
To teach the people was difficult in those days ; 
to teach their rulers was well nigh impossible. 
Here, then, was a chance, the one splendid chance, 
of showing them the progress of the world, the 
ominous advance of knowledge and of the old 
order towards the new. Eaynal handed over to 
Grimm the correspondence he had established with 
the Courts of the north and south of Germany ; 
and with this small connection Grimm began his 

The ' Literary Correspondence ' remains to-day 
the only literary review which has survived the 
passage of time, and is still not merely a great 
name, but a great living work. The ' Spectator ' 
and the ' Tatler ' of Addison and Steele are kept 
eternally fresh by an exquisite charm of style; 
but they rarely aspired to serious criticism, and 
are mainly a record of modes and manners, not 
of literature or of science. The ' Literary Corre- 
spondence ' is as much to-day as on the day it was 
written, the guide-book to the letters, the art, and 
the drama of the eighteenth century; the open 
door to its society and to the mind of cultivated 
Paris; a book which is equally indispensable to 
the scholar or to the novelist writing of its period, 


and which is certainly both the most instructive 
and the most amusing literary compilation extant. 

Of no settled length and in manuscript, it was 
despatched to its subscribers twice a month. It 
had no fixed price, its readers paying as much as 
they chose for it, or as much as Grimm could 
make them pay. His old friend the Duchess of 
Saxe-Gotha was, as has been seen, one of his first 
subscribers. The Landgrave of Hesse, the Queen 
of Sweden, and Catherine the Great of Eussia soon 
joined his select and limited clientele. Stanislas 
Augustus, King of Poland, the Margrave of 
Anspach, and the Grand Duke of Tuscany joined 
later. Frederick the Great, after his unlucky 
experience with Theriot, was extremely dilatory 
and vacillating in having anything to do with it ; 
when he did add his name to the list of subscribers 
he never paid his subscription and harried Grimm 
to insert the scandals and the on dits of the cafes 
and the Court, which Grimm declined to do. 

For greater security, the sheets did not go 
through the post, but through the legations of 
the various countries. The thing was, in fact, a 
secret, and a well-kept secret, for more than half 
a century, and never knew the danger of print 
until it was published in 1812, under the Empire, 
with many cautious Napoleonic omissions. In the 
meantime, its secrecy and the limited number of 


its readers gave the discreet Grimm, who declared 
that the most enlightened reasoning was not worth 
a night in the Bastille, and who was cautious to 
the very fibre of his bones, the opportunity of 
being at once candid, impartial, and safe. 

He set forth a flaming prospectus, promising 
an 'unlimited truthfulness.' The sheets shall be 
' dedicated to confidence and frankness ! ' They 
were. To those distant Courts and Kings there 
went forth every fortnight the inimitable criti- 
cisms of the most bold, just, and cool critic 
who ever breathed. He not only analysed, with 
extraordinary brilliancy and fairness, the writings 
of Voltaire, of friend Eousseau, and of Bufibn, but 
he sat in discerning judgment on the works of 
English novelists and poets. He criticised books 
which have not lived, in criticisms which are 
undying. As to the value and the longevity of 
the productions, he was sometimes, naturally and 
inevitably, mistaken ; but as a rule his opinions 
have been confirmed by posterity and have 
weathered the test of time. 

He also described to his readers the condition 
of the drama, the plots of the plays, the art of the 
players. Of course he was clever enough if the 
season was rather a dull one, to fill out his pages 
with extracts from a tragedy or from a novel; 
sometimes, it is said, the ingenious man gave 


quotations from works which had never been 

He dealt with medical questions, and did 
not think it beneath his dignity to examine the 
merits of a mouth-wash. He wrote many pages 
on Tronchin, the great physician, and on inocu- 
lation. Here, surely, was one of the chances to 
enlighten kings — kings who, more than any other 
class of men, suffered and died from the ignorant 
tyranny of their physicians, and who had to wait 
eighteen centuries before any man told them that 
fresh air was a valuable property, and health a 
kingdom to be taken by temperance, soberness, 
and chastity. 

If there was a scientific marvel in the air, such 
as ventriloquism, why, of course, Grimm must tell 
his correspondents about that ; and the music, 
French or Italian, of the capital, must also receive 
its comment. Then there was the news of the 
day, and of Academical disputes, and, though 
Grimm had declared he would not report them, 
occasional piquant anecdotes with a sufficient spice 
of scandal in them to have pleased King Frederick. 

He further drew pen-portraits of celebrities. 
Nothing could be more fair and shrewd than 
Grimm's character- sketches. He solves in them 
the supreme difficulty — how to be at once honest 
and charitable. 


Next there is an epigram to be reported. While 
a charade that has amused a Parisian fine lady is 
surely good enough for a German duchess ! 

Politics were supposed to be excluded, and 
they were excluded in the sense that there were 
no remarks on public events until those events had 
become so notorious that the ' Correspondence ' did 
not add to its readers' knowledge of them. But 
though, or because, he wrote for governors, Grimm 
adduced his theories on government, he himself 
believing in the divine rights neither of the 'Social 
Contract ' nor of kings. To his views on tole- 
rance, finance, and education, he gave utterance 
soberly, thoughtfully, and at length. He had a 
subscription list in his paper for Voltaire's unfor- 
tunate proteges, the Calas ; and if his pen was to 
flow freely, as he had promised, how could he 
stay his indignation against the trial and the sacri- 
fice of the Chevalier de la Barre ? 

To the friend and intimate of the philosophers, 
the most ordinary event suggested philosophical 
reflections. His religious views could hardly help 
appearing ; but Grimm's was a quiet agnosticism, 
and had nothing in common with the excited cer- 
tainties of Diderot's unbelief. He had, of course, 
his theories on women, on art, and on languages ; 
and he aired them all. He brought out, in the 
same tantalising fashion in which serials are now 



produced in weekly illustrated newspapers, Dide- 
rot's two novels. 

He was himself not only the first critic of his 
day, but he was thinker as well as chronicler, 
worldling and scholar, reporter and savant. 
Foreigner though he was, he had learnt to write 
the French language in a style inimitably clear, 
supple, and forcible. His command of irony alone 
should have been a fortune to him. Add to this, 
his singularly wise, calm head, and his unrivalled 
position as the friend of the women of the salons 
and the nobility of Paris as well as of its writers 
and politicians. Further, this critic of music was 
himself a musician, this judge of authors him- 
self an author. He lived in one of the most 
momentous and thrilling periods in the history 
of this earth, and in one of the most stimulating 
of her cities, and was able to write wholly with- 
out fear of consequence for readers of whose 
intelligent interest he was sure, while he had ever 
before him the magnificent hope of so opening the 
hearts and feeding the knowledge of those readers 
that they might turn and do good unto their people 
and be a blessing, and not a curse, to their lands. 

Consider all this, and it is not marvellous 
that Grimm remains the first journalist and the 
* Literary Correspondence ' the first newspaper in 
the world. 


It is hardly necessary to say that it gave its 
editor an enormous amount of work. Chaise de 
paille, his friends called him in allusion to his dili- 
gence; later, when he began to travel, Grimm 
suggested the nickname should be altered to chaise 
de paste. He had many secretaries working under 
him. One, Meister, was attached to him all his 
life, and benefited largely under his will. When 
he was away from Paris the good-natured Diderot 
made a brilliant substitute ; and Madame d'fipinay 
took up a delicate pen to become the first, and 
surely the most charming, of women journalists. 

Only a few months after his arrival in Paris 
Grimm had been introduced to this little black- 
eyed, bright-witted, and all too seductive wife of 
a worthless husband. In 1752, at Frisen's table, 
he had heard her name insulted, and had fought 
a duel for its honour. By 1755, on his return 
from his journey with d'Holbach, he became a 
familiar figure in her salon. First her wise and 
masterful friend, he was soon her despotic lover. 

It is always a vexed point of morals to deter- 
mine how far right can come out of wrong, how 
far a cause initially bad can be said to be good 
in its results. It must certainly be conceded in 
Grimm's case that, having put himself into a false 
position and remaining there, he acted not only 
sensibly and discreetly, but even honestly and 

M 2 


conscientiously. He found Madame d'Epinay 
silly, as are so many clever women, and he in- 
sisted on her behaving with judgment and dis- 
cretion. One of his first acts was to demand that 
her old lover, Francueil, whom she still permitted 
to visit her as a friend, should be given his dis- 
missal. With Duclos, man of letters, and of 
character rough, dissipated, and unscrupulous, 
he bade her break entirely. Then he turned to 

It has been justly said of Grimm that he never 
lost a friend save Jean Jacques. In 1756 Madame 
d'Epinay, acting on one of those excessively foolish 
impulses which she herself felt to be wholly fasci- 
nating, and which had already more than once 
shipwrecked her life, gave Eousseau the little 
Hermitage in the forest of Montmorency, close to 
her own country-house of La Chevrette. 

Grimm had not known Eousseau for six years 
without knowing his heart. He looked up suddenly 
from the ' Correspondence.' ' You have done Eous- 
seau a bad service,' he told Madame d'fipinay 
sternly, ' and yourself a worse.' Still, it was done. 
In 1757, that belle laide, Madame d'Houdetot, also 
had a house close to La Chevrette, and there 
attracted the notice of Eousseau. After a brief 
summer day of dehght, she grew tired of her 
vehement admirer, or her lover, Saint-Lambert, 


grew tired of him for her. At any rate, there 
burst over those three houses in the Montmorency 
forest a storm of fierce passions and scandal- 
ous recriminations. All Paris stood watching. 
Diderot plunged impulsively into that angry sea. 
Eousseau accused Madame d'fipinay, in terms 
which no self-respecting woman could have for- 
given, of being the writer of a certain fatal anony- 
mous letter ; and she forgave him. Grimm had 
been appointed secretary to the Duke of Orleans, 
and was absent on duty in Westphalia. He did 
not spare his little mistress's pusillanimous weak- 
ness. ' Your excuses are feeble . . . you have 
committed a very great fault,' he wrote. Hurry- 
ing home, he dealt with Eousseau in terms of un- 
mistakable plainness. He made Madame d'Epinay 
cast him off there, at once, and for ever, and 
carried her off to Geneva on the excuse, a just 
excuse in every sense, of her health. 

But the consequences of her folly were not 
ended. Eousseau defamed her character in the 
' Confessions,' and in that unique masterpiece of 
scurrility he speaks of Grimm as ' a tiger whose 
fury increases daily.' Diderot declared that Jean 
Jacques made him believe in the existence of the 
devil and of hell. But Grimm wrote an obituary 
notice of Eousseau in his 'Correspondence' of 
admirable justice and moderation, and spoke of 


him as ' embittered by sorrows which were of his 
own making but not the less real,' and as ' a soul 
at once too weak and too strong to bear quietly 
the burden of life.' It must be allowed that 
Grimm could be magnanimous. 

Having saved Madame d'Epinay from her 
friends, it remained to him to save her from herself. 
At Geneva he put her under the care of the great 
and good Tronchin, and made her write for the 
' Correspondence.' He helped her to manage the 
miserable remains of the fortune her husband's 
mad extravagance had left her, supervised the 
education of her children, and even showed her 
the harm she did them by speaking disrespectfully 
of their father. His love was not fervent, perhaps, 
but it corrected her follies and her weakness, and 
made her do and be her best. It had at least some 
of the tokens of a good and honourable feeling. 

These visits to Geneva were undoubtedly the 
happiest time in her life. On this first one, which 
lasted eight months, from February to October 
1759, she and Grimm often saw and talked with 
Voltaire ; and Grimm greatly appreciated the 
society of the solid and sensible Genevans and the 
cultivated Tronchins. Mademoiselle Fel came to 
stay with Voltaire at Les Delices, and when Grimm 
saw her there he proved convincingly the truth 
that 'the man's love, once gone, never returns.' 


But his real passion was not even for Madame 
d'Epinay. His dominant taste was his ambition ; 
his dearest mistress, his career. 

Already secretary to the Duke of Orleans, on 
the last evening of his stay at Geneva, he heard 
the satisfactory news that he was made Envoy 
for Frankfort at the Court of France. True, M. 
rArnbassadeur, as Diderot called him, soon lost his 
post by joking in a despatch at the expense of an 
official person; but none the less he was rising 
in the world. Presently he was busy settling 
M. d'Epinay 's bankruptcy and helping Madame to 
arrange a satisfactory marriage for her daughter. 
Tyran le Blanc he was called by her and her 
circle. But, after all, no woman is happy till she 
has met her master. Well for her if she find one 
as I'udicious and upright as Melchior Grimm. 

He was less with her as the years went by, 
though not in any sense less faithful. In 1762 
the Duchess of Saxe-Gotha appointed him her 
charge d'affaires ; and when she died her husband 
made him Councillor of Legation, with a pension. 

He met Frederick the Great when he was 
travelling in Germany in 1769 ; and Frederick, 
forgetting his grievance that Grimm would not 
turn the ' Correspondence ' into a scandalous 
society newspaper, fell under the spell of his 
fellow-countryman's encyclopasdical knowledge 


and dignified affability. Grimm, said Meister, had 
the rare talent of living with great people without 
losing any of the freedom and independence of his 

When he was nearly fifty years old, in 1771, 
he resumed an employment of his youth, and, at 
a very large salary, consented to be tutor to the 
Hereditary Prince of Hesse, a boy about nineteen. 
The pair went to England and were well received 
at its ultra-German Court. Grimm was delighted 
with ' the simplicity, the naturalness, and the good 
sense ' of the English character. The Landgravine, 
young Hesse's mother, sold her diamonds that her 
son might prolong his visit in so delightful a 
country. And then Grimm brought him back to 
Paris and formed his mind and manners in the 
society of d'Holbach and Diderot, of Madame 
Necker and Madame Geoffrin. 

In 1773, tutor and pupil went to St. Petersburg 
to attend the marriage of Wilhelmina, the Prince 
of Hesse's sister, with the Czarevitch Paul. In a 
very short time the skilful Grimm had gained the 
great Catherine's interest and consideration. Even 
Diderot's warm heart and glowing genius (he was 
staying at the Eussian Court when Grimm arrived 
there) did not win her so well as the German's 
delicate tact and keen perceptions. Herself before 
all things a great statesman, how should she not 


respect the shrewd judgment, the strength, and 
the determination of a Grimm ? It is so rare to 
be clever and wise! It was most rare in the 
eighteenth century. Two or three times a week 
'Grimm dined with her Majesty en petit comite — 
those dinners at which all men were equal, and at 
which no servants appeared to hamper the conver- 
sation. Afterwards she talked alone with him by 
the hour together. He told Madame Geoffrin 
how, when he left her, he would pace his room all 
night with the splendid ideas she had suggested 
coursing through his sleepless brain : ' The winter 
of 1773-74 passed for me,' he said, 'en ivresse 
continuelle' But when Catherine would have 
permanently attached him to her service, his stern 
good sense helped him to refuse. There is no such 
dead- weight on genius as a post at Court — ^be it the 
Court of a Catherine or a Frederick — and Grimm 
knew it. ' I have never seen you hesitate about 
anything,' Madame d'Epinay had once written to 
him ; ' when you have once decided with your 
just, strong mind, it is for ever.' 

His refusal was unalterable, and he returned to 
Paris. He was sure enough of his firmness to visit 
his royal friend again, two years later, in 1776. 
He had been acting tutor once more, to the two 
Counts EomanzofF this time. He had taken them 
to Naples to embrace Galiani, to Ferney to see 


Voltaire, and to Berlin to see Frederick. They 
arrived in Petersburg in time for the second 
marriage of the Czarevitch, of whose first marriage, 
with Wilhelmina of Hesse, Grimm had been the 
principal promoter. Catherine received him with 
the same flattering interest and offers, but he was 
as deaf to them as before. Then she gave him 
the title of Colonel — to the intense amusement of 
King Frederick — and appointed him her general 
agent in Paris at a salary of ten thousand livres. 

After his return to the capital this appoint- 
ment formed a very large occupation in his life. 

His frequent absences had naturally not been 
the best thing in the world for the ' Literary 
Correspondence,' but it would have been a much 
worse thing if Diderot — Grimm's 'patient milch- 
cow whom he can milk an essay from or a volume 
from when he lists ' — had not been there to do his 
work. The ' Correspondence ' rightly appears with 
Diderot's name as well as Grimm's on its title- 
page. In these latter years, indeed, its readers 
often had to be content, not with Diderot, but 
with a mere Meister ; and when Grimm did write 
himself it was sometimes carelessly and in a 
hurry. Not quite the first, or the last, perhaps, 
to commit that literary enormity, he occasionally 
reviewed books he had not taken the trouble to 


His letters to and from Catherine, after the 
first few years, were not conveyed through the 
post, but by special messenger, and are therefore 
delightfully outspoken. Grimm's contain indeed 
a good deal of flattery and exaggeration; but 
Catherine's are spontaneous enough. She used 
to say she was as 'frankly an original as the 
most determined Englishman.' The pair wrote 
sometimes in French and sometimes in German. 
They had nicknames for most of the crowned 
heads in Europe. Of ' Brother George of England ' 
Catherine had always spoken with contempt, and 
considered his loss of the American colonies as ' a 
State treason.' But much of the correspondence 
was devoted to mere homely details. As her agent, 
Grimm bought the imperial rouge for the imperial 
cheeks, pictures, books, and bon-bons. He took 
long journeys in her interest : he supplied her with 
architects when she caught a fever for building ; 
and presently, having been discreet matchmaker 
for the Hesses and the Czarevitch, he was com- 
missioned to play the same delicate part for the 
Czarevitch's daughters. 

He was living now in the Eue de la Chauss^e 
d'Antin. His love of music was still strong, and 
on young Mozart's visits to Paris, Grimm was his 
kindest and most influential patron. The next 
few years saw the deaths of many old friends — 


of Voltaire, of Diderot, of Frederick the Great, of 
d'Holbach, and of Madame d'Epinay. For ever 
trying to conciliate all men, poor little volatile, 
self-deceived deceiver, under Grimm's masterful 
influence the best qualities of her nature had 
come to the fore and the worst receded. She was 
to the last true to him as she had never been 
true to anyone else. Grimm adopted her grand- 
daughter and married her to the Comte de Bueil. 

So far, his own life had been singularly happy 
and successful. If he had loved unwisely, he had 
taken care that the affection should never be of 
that inordinate kind which is its own punishment. 
He had, too, one of the dearest solaces of declin- 
ing life in seeing young people growing up about 
him. As to his career, he was not only attached 
to the royal house of Orleans, but he was by now 
Catherine's Councillor of State, Minister Pleni- 
potentiary to the Duke of Saxe-Gotha, and Baron 
of the Viennese Empire. He was a rich man, 
with a fine collection of books, pictures, and vertu. 
He should have died before 1789. 

In that year came the stunning fall of the 
Bastille. Of liberty, Grimm had talked easily 
enough, but he had also been shrewd enough to 
doubt its promises. He had at least nothing of 
the calm confidence of the fine ladies of the old 
regime who drove out from modish Paris through 


the Faubourg Saint- Antoine to look at the ruins of 
the great prison, as at a sight prepared — for their 
amusement. To the wary German the destruction 
of the Bastille spelt the ruin of France. The 
Eevolution sped on — Vengeance rushing through 
the night with a drawn sword in her hand. 

In 1790 came the great emigration of the nobles. 
Who should be suspect if not this correspondent 
of kings? Grimm fled to Frankfort; but in two 
months' time he plunged again into the whirlpool of 
Paris, to rescue the Comtesse de Bueil, his dear 
adopted grandchild, then in sore straits. He took 
her to Aix-la-Chapelle ; but in October 1791 he 
returned himself to the capital, to get the Empress's 
letters out of France if he could. He found he had 
already been denounced in the committees as 
carrying on a correspondence with her ' little favour- 
able to the Eevolution.' His only chance of safety 
lay, he saw, in ' extreme circumspection.' He had 
that quality by nature to the full ; but, none the 
less, stirred by a generous pity, history tells of an 
interview he had with the royal saint, Madame 
Elisabeth, in which he tried to assist both her and 
Marie Antoinette. He could do nothing ; fate and 
the fatal Bourbon character were too strong for the 
Bourbons to be saved. 

In 1792 Grimm, who had loved her long and 
owed her much, said farewell to Paris for ever, 


leaving behind him, as he said, the fruit of the 
wisdom of his whole life and his entire fortune, and 
finding himself as naked as when he came into 
the world. He and Madame de Bueil lodged over 
a chemist's shop in Dusseldorf, and even had to 
sleep in the Natural History Museum of that town. 
Grimm's whole income was Catherine's pension of 
two thousand roubles ; her generosity indeed often 
added to it, and in 1796 she made him Eussian 
Minister at Hamburg. This was one of the last 
acts of her life. She died, and left her friend and 
servant yet the poorer for her loss. 

At Hamburg he had a disease of the eye which 
necessitated its removal. Then he retired to Gotha 
and lived with the Comtesse de Bueil in a house 
given him by the Duke of Saxe-Gotha, the munificent 
Duke providing furniture, linen, kitchen utensils — 
everything. The Countess's two young daughters 
acted as Grimm's secretaries. The music he had 
loved was still a resource to him, and he seems to 
have kept to the last something of his old power 
and mastery over others. Goethe found him, when 
he saw him in 1801, still an agreeable man of the 
world and rich in interest and experience, but 
unable to conceal a profound bitterness at the 
thought of his misfortunes. Under the Directory 
some of his confiscated property was restored to 
him. But it could hardly benefit him; he no 


longer lived, he only existed. He, who had been 
born when the Kegent Orleans ruled France and 
the old order was at the supreme height of its 
magnificence and depravity, was roused from the 
dotage of his last days to hear the thunder of the 
cannon of Jena and Austerlitz, or the story of the 
peace concluded between Catherine's grandson, 
Alexander, and Napoleon Bonaparte upon the raft 
at Tilsit. 

Grimm died on December 19, 1807, aged 

No unpleasing contrast, this ' methodical, 
adroit, managing man,' with his cold uprightness 
and steady prudence, to a reckless, out-at-elbows 
Diderot, or a mad, miserable Eousseau. Thrifti- 
ness and caution are uin-omantic virtues and 
even accounted selfish ; but, after all, the world 
would have no beggars to relieve if every man 
laid by for himself. 

If it was the Encyclopaedists' mission to teach 
the people to reform their kings, it was Grimm's 
to teach those kings to reform themselves — to be 
as careful and judicious as he was. He tried ; but 
from long and close association with them he him- 
self caught at last that disease epidemic among 
rulers — oblivion to unpleasant consequences and a 
relentless future — and never recovered from the 
fearful shock which opened his eyes at last. 



Most of the reforming philosophers of the eight- 
eenth century were better in word than deed. 

Helvetius wrote himself down self-seeker and 
materialist, and in every action of his life gave his 
utterance the lie. Helvetius was, as Voltaire had 
been, a courtier — not the teacher of kings, like 
Grimm, but their friend and servant. Helvetius 
alone was at once of that body, which of all bodies 
the philosophers most hated, the Farmers-General 
— the extortionate tax-gatherers of old France — 
and of a practical philanthropy Voltaire himself 
might have envied. 

He belonged to a family famous in the medical 
profession. His great-grandfather, a religious 
refugee from the Palatinate, had been a clever 
quack, practising in Holland. His grandfather 
introduced ipecacuanha to the doctors of Paris, 
and his father, having saved Louis XV. 's life in 
some childish complaint, was made physician to 
the Queen and Councillor of State. Still, the 

C^ A lJEi;^/Ii:Ti.TJS 

I'irlfirJ .V JmI,- 

1„^ LS'.^An«.ai 

From an Engraving by St. Aubin, after the Portrait by Vanloo. 


family fortunes were but mediocre. Little Claude- 
Adrien, who was born in 1715, was at first edu- 
cated at home by a mother ' full of sweetness and 
goodness.' Her tenderness, perhaps, was an ill 
preparation for the harsher, wider world of the 
famous school of Saint Louis-le-Grand, whither 
Claude-Adrien was presently sent. It was Vol- 
taire's old school, and it was Voltaire's old school- 
master, Pere Poree, who helped the shy, sensitive, 
new boy with kindliness and encouragement, and 
first roused in him a love of letters. Grimm, who 
nearly always has his pen pointed with malice 
when he writes of Helve tins, records that poor 
Claude-Adrien always seemed stupid at school 
through being the victim of a chronic cold in the 
head : an unromantic afiliction, which would make 
genius itself uninteresting. Young Helvetius was 
no genius, however. 

After leaving school he was sent to an uncle, 
who was a superintendent of taxes at Caen, to 
learn finance. There he wrote the usual boyish 
tragedy of promise — never to be performed — 
and the usual youthful verses, and was made a 
member of the Caen Literary Academy. The 
sensitive shyness soon disappeared. Young, 
healthy, and handsome, loving literature much 
and women more, an excellent dancer and fencer, 
clever, cool, agreeable, and much minded to get 


on in the world, young Helvetius comes up to Paris. 
At three-and-twenty, in 1738, being the son of his 
father, and having the necessary financial equip- 
ment, he was made Farmer-General, a post certain 
to bring in two or three thousand a year, and 
possibly, with the requisite extortion and un- 
scrupulousness, a good deal more. 

Paris, in the years between 1738 and 1751, 
was certainly the most delightful and the most 
seductive city in the world. In the early part of 
that period, Madame de Tencin, the mother of 
d'Alembert and the sister of the Cardinal, was 
forming the youth of the capital in her famous 
salon. In the later period, Madame de Pompadour 
was revealing to it by her example the whole secret 
of worldly success — a clear head and a cold heart. 
The Court was eternally laughing, play-acting, in- 
triguing. For the few, the world went with the live- 
liest lilt ; and for the many — the many were dumb. 

Helvetius was one of the few. Now at Madame 
de Tencin's, ' gathering in order that he might 
one day sow ; ' now in the foyer of the Comedie, 
where Mademoiselle Gaussin, the charming comic 
actress, nourished a hopeless passion for him ; now at 
the opera, seeing for the first time BufFon, Diderot, 
d'Alembert, and joining hotly in the question of 
French or Italian music, which agitated the capital 
a thousand times more than national glory or 


shame ; now at Madame de Pompadour's famous 
little dinners of the Entresol, or at Court, daintily 
distinguishing between the Queen of reality and 
the poor Queen en titre — the new young Farmer- 
General was Everywhere where Everybody who is 
Anybody goes, and Nowhere where Nobody goes. 
Be sure there was a fashionable shibboleth then as 
there is now, and be sure Helvetius prattled it and 
lived up to it. Grimm declared that if the word 
* gallant ' had not been in the French language, it 
would certainly have had to be invented in order 
to describe him. 

One day, society heard of him dancing at the 
opera under the mask of the famous dancer, Dupre. 
The next, he was whispered to be the lover of a 
modish Countess, who had taken Atheism as other 
women took Jansenism, Molinism, or a craze for 
little dogs, and passionately imbued her lover with 
the exhilarating doctrine of All from Nothing to 
Nothing. Then he posed as the amant-en-titre ot 
the Duchesse de Chaulnes. For the passions were 
only a pose — like the opera dancing. Helvetius 
was merely minded to get on in the world, and was 
looking about for the shortest cut to glory. He 
soon saw, or thought he saw, a pleasant road 
thereto called Verse. 

Voltaire, now retired to Cirey, science, and 
Madame du Ch^telet, had made poetry the fashion. 

K 2 


I too will be a poet ! The young Farmer-General 
racked his sharp brains a little, and as a result 
sent Voltaire some long, dismal cantos on ' Happi- 
ness/ The master repHed with the kindliest criti- 
cism, and offered advice so keen and excellent that 
if poets were made, not born, Helvetius' verses 
might still live. But, after all, advice by post is 
always unsatisfactory. Helvetius' Farmer-Gene- 
ralship made periodical tours in the provinces an 
agreeable necessity. On a journey through Cham- 
pagne, what more natural than to stop awhile at 
Cirey, where Voltaire was writing ' Mahomet,' and 
Madame du Chatelet was the most delightful of 
blue-stocking hostesses ? Between Arouet of five- 
and-forty and Claude- Adrien of five-and- twenty 
a warm friendship was cemented. All Voltaire's 
correspondence from 1738 until 1771 is studded 
with letters to Helvetius. The young man was 
his ' very dear child,' ' my rival, my poet, my 
philosopher.' If he took so large and liberal a 
view of Helvetius' talents as to declare that, as 
a poet, he had as much imagination as Milton, 
only more smoothness and regularity (!), yet he 
was not afraid to wrap up the pill of many a 
shrewd home truth in the fine sugar-plums of 

But, after all, is poetry the easiest way to 
glory ? Claude-Adrien, returned to Paris, walking 


through the Tuileries gardens one day, saw the 
hideous Maupertuis, the geometrician, surrounded 
by all the charming and pretty women, adoring 
him, and immediately decided to abandon verse 
and be a geometrician instead. But before he had 
taken a couple of steps in this direction, the 
publication of the 'Spirit of Laws' in 1748 
electrified Europe, and changed his mind. To 
be sure, when, three years earlier, Montesquieu 
had brought the book up to Paris and asked the 
young Farmer-General's judgment on it, Helvetius 
had replied that it was altogether unworthy of 
the author of the 'Persian Letters,' and had 
strongly recommended him not to publish it. 
Well, that advice can be conveniently forgotten. 
Helvetius paid Montesquieu the sincerest of all 
flattery by resolving on the spot to be a philo- 
sopher himself. 

If, between these eventful years of three-and- 
twenty and six-and-thirty, Helvetius had been 
nothing but an astute, ambitious young man- 
about-town, seeking the likeliest way to fame and 
fortune, he would have been undistinguishable 
from hundreds of others around him, and not 
worth distinguishing. But, at his worst, there 
was something in him which was never in that 
selfish crowd which thronged the galleries of 


As tax-gatherer, it was his interest and pro- 
fession to extract the uttermost farthing — and he 
did not do it. Nay, he pleaded in high places for 
the wretches it was his business to ruin. When in 
Bordeaux they rebelled against an iniquitous new 
tax on wine, he encouraged the rebellion. Though 
he was constantly at Court and in a position 
which entailed lavish personal expenditure, he 
pensioned Thomas, the poet, out of his own 
pocket ; and by an annuity of a thousand ecus 
opened the world of letters to Saurin, hereafter 
the dramatist. The Abbe Sabatier de Castres 
declared himself to have been the recipient of 
his delicate and generous charity. Marivaux, the 
novelist and playwright, who was personally very 
uncongenial to Helvetius, received from him a 
yearly sum of two thousand livres. 

It was in Helvetius' house in Paris, as he 
afterwards told Hume, the historian, that he con- 
cealed, coming and going for ' nearly two years,' 
Prince Charles Edward, the Young Pretender, at a 
time ' when the danger was greater in harbouring 
him in Paris than in London ' on account of the 
clause in the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle of the year 
1748, which stipulated that France should shelter 
no member of the family in her domains. Hel- 
vetius, hke many another generous dupe, fell a 
victim to the Stuart grace and charm : ' I had 


all his correspondence pass through my hands ; 
met with his partisans upon the Pont Neuf; 
and found at last I had incurred all this danger 
and trouble for the most unworthy of all mortals,' 
for a poor coward who ' was so frightened when 
he embarked on his expedition to Scotland ' that 
he had literally to be carried on board by his 
attendants. (It is fair to say that Helvetius made 
this statement only on the testimony of a third 
person whose name is not given.) The sole good 
quality, indeed, his host ended by finding in this 
faint hope of Britain, the guest for whom he had 
risked his safety and spent his money, was that he 
was ' no bigot.' As this meant he had ' learnt a 
contempt of all religions from the philosophers in 
Paris,' not everyone would consider even this an 

In 1740, Madame de Grafiigny, famous as the 
gossiping visitor at Cirey with whom Voltaire and 
Madame du Chatelet quarrelled, had arrived in 
Paris, and there, in the Eue d'Enfer, near the 
Luxembourg, had set up her salon. To insure 
its success, Madame, who was five-and-forty, fat 
and unbeautiful, had with her a charming niece, 
Mademoiselle Anne Catherine de Ligniville, who 
was then one-and-twenty, fair, handsome, intelli- 
gent. A year or two before, her aunt had adopted 
and so rescued her from a convent, to which the 


fact of the unfortunate girl having nineteen living 
brothers and sisters had condemned her. 

In 1747, Madame de Graffigny attained celebrity 
by her ' Letters from a Peruvian.' Turgot did her 
the honour of criticising them : frequented her 
5a/(>7z, which rapidly became famous, and at which, 
in 1750, Helvetius, still young, rich, agreeable, 
and unmarried, became a constant visitor. For a 
year, he was there perpetually. ' The sheepfold 
of hel esprit^' people called it. Helvetius liked to 
be thought a hel esprit, and it was de rigueur 
to admire the hostess's 'Peruvian' and her play 
' C^nie,' which was produced in 1750. He soon 
came to admire something besides her writings. 
' Minette,' as she nicknamed her niece, was such a 
woman as fashionable eighteenth-century society 
rarely produced — such a woman as any fashion- 
able society rarely produces. Strong in mind and 
body, good, straightforward and serene, refresh- 
ingly unconventional in an age which had no god 
but the convenances, not half so clever as that 
accomplished old fool, her aunt, and a hundred 
times more sensible — such was Mademoiselle de 

Helvetius studied her in his calm manner for a 
year, and at the end of it proposed to her. Then 
he resigned his Farmer-Generalship with its rich 
income ; bought, to pacify his father, the post of 


maitre d'hotel to Queen Marie Leczinska, and the 
estates of Vore and Lumigny in Burgundy, and, 
on June 17, 1751, married Mademoiselle de Ligni- 
ville, who was a Countess of the Holy Eoman 
Empire, satisfactorily connected with the nobility, 
and had not a single franc to her dot. 

All these actions caused something very like 
consternation in the world in which Helvetius 
lived. Give up a Farmer-Generalship ! The man 
must be mad ! ' So you are not insatiable, then, 
like the rest of them ? ' says Machault, the Con- 
troller-General. As to the estates in Burgundy, 
one might as well be buried alive at once ! 
While to marry a woman who is by now certainly 
not a day less than two-and-thirty, has not an ecu, 
and has a tribe of hungry brothers and sisters 
clinging to her, as it w^ere, is certainly not the act 
of a sane person ! Followed by the mingled pity 
and contempt of all Paris, Helvetius and his wife 
left immediately for Vore, and settled down to the 
eight happiest years of their lives. 

Vore was one of those country estates which 
would still be called dull. In those days, before 
railways, with a starving peasantry at its gates, 
with rare posts of the most erratic description, 
and with the vilest impassable roads between one 
country house and another, it might have been 
called not merely dull, but dismal. But, after 


all, happiness is what one is, not where one is. 
Perfectly content with each other, the Helvetius 
would have been contented in a wilderness. 
Minette, says a biographer, asked nothing better 
than to adore her husband and perpetually to 
sacrifice herself to him. 

If it was not in his calmer nature to adore 
anyone, his love for her is on the testimony of the 
whole eighteenth century. His married happi- 
ness 'bewildered and astonished' it. 'Those 
Helvetius,' said a country neighbour discon- 
tentedly, ' do not even pronounce the words, 
my husband^ my wife, my child, as we others 
do.' 'Good husband, good father, good friend, 
good man,' wrote unfavourable Grimm. The 
easy prosperity of Helvetius' love for his wife, its 
freedom from storm and stress, left it, doubtless, 
a lighter thing than if it had been forged in the 
fire and beaten by the blows of affliction and re- 
verse. It was thus with all his qualities. Kind, 
rather than lovable ; charming, rather than great ; 
equable, because nothing in his destiny came to 
move the deep waters, or because there were no 
deep waters to be moved: these were the key- 
notes to Helvetius' character. 

The first child of the marriage, a daughter, 
was born in 1752, and the second, also a 
daughter, in 1754. Father and mother devoted 


tliemselves to the education of the little girls, 
though in their time polite society considered 
that parents had sufficiently obliged their children 
by bringing them into the world, and that further 
favours, such as a judicious training, were entirely 

The household was completed by two super- 
annuated secretaries, whom Helvetius kept, very 
characteristically, not because he wanted them, 
but because he feared no one else would want 
them either. One of them, Baudot, had known 
his master from a child, and spoke to him as if 
he were one still. 'I have certainly not all the 
faults Baudot finds in me,' observed Helvetius 
tranquilly, 'but I have some of them. Who 
would tell me of them if I did not keep him ? ' 

Sometimes visitors came to Vore, but for so 
sociable an age, not very often. Though they 
were always made generously welcome, they must 
have known they were not necessary to that 
menage. Still, they were useful, if only to prove 
to these married lovers how much happier they 
were alone — just as the four gay winter months 
they spent in Paris doubled the delights of 
peaceful Vore. 

The day there began with work. Helvetius 
was now firmly minded to achieve glory by means 
of philosophy — fame and sport, it is said, were the 


only passions lie had. He spent the whole 
morning writing and thinking. In composition 
he had neither the hot haste of Diderot nor 
the glittering inspiration of Voltaire. He wrote 
indeed painfully and laboriously — as the author 
born writes when he is weary and disinclined — as 
a man always writes whom nature has intended 
for another occupation. Sometimes one of the 
incompetent secretaries had to wait for hours with 
his pen in his hand, while his master wrestled 
with the refractory thought in his brain, or waited 
for the inspired phrase to come down from on 
high. His wife had not much sympathy with his 
philosophies. The philosophers talked so much, 
and as yet had done so little ! But in everything 
else she was entirely at one with her husband. 

It would be absurd to pretend that before the 
Ee volution there were no noblemen in France 
who did their duty by their country estates and 
tenants, who looked after the poor on their lands, 
and, so far as they could, realised and acted up 
to the responsibilities of their position. There 
is always more goodness in the world than there 
appears to be, because goodness is of its very 
nature modest and retiring. But that the con- 
scientious landowner was then a rare and sur- 
prising phenomenon is proved by the fact that 
when Helvetius and his wife began to devote 


themselves to acts of benevolence, everyone 
turned and stared at them. To-day, indeed, 
Helvetius might not be counted extraordinarily 
charitable. But it is not by modern standards 
he can be fairly judged. Compare him with the 
immense majority of the great financial magnates 
of his day and country, and he stands proven a 
philanthropist indeed. 

When he first bought Yore, he had given a 
M. de Vasconcelles, a poor gentleman who owed 
the estate a large sum, a receipt for the whole, 
putting it into his hands saying, ' Take this paper 
to keep my people from bothering you ; ' and he 
further settled a handsome gift of money on him, 
to help him to educate his family. One of his 
next actions was to bring a good doctor to the 
place, establish him on it, and himself pay for 
the medical services thus rendered the peasants. 
Daily he and Minette visited the poor, accom- 
panied by this doctor and a Sister of Mercy. 
He also set up in the place a stocking manu- 
factory — and so, perhaps, supplied an idea to 
Voltaire. He encouraged and helped the farmers 
to farm their land ; acted as unpaid judge in their 
disputes; and in hard times let them off their 
debts. There are a dozen stories of the private 
individuals he helped. One day, it is a ruined 
Jesuit priest, who has abused his confidence and 


kindness. Helvetius finds one of the Jesuit's 
friends, and gives liim fifty louis for his old 
enemy. ' Do not say it comes from me — he has 
injured me, and he would feel humiliated at 
receiving a gift from me.' Could delicacy go 
further ? 

Another day, when he was driving, a woodman 
leading a horse and cart was irritatingly slow in 
getting out of the way of the carriage. Helvetius 
lost his patience. 'All right,' said the man, 'I 
am a coquin and you are an honest man, I suppose, 
because I am on foot and you are in a carriage.' 
' I beg your pardon,' says Helvetius, with his fine 
instincts instantly awake, ' you have given me an 
excellent lesson, for which I ought to pay ; ' and 
he gave the man a sum which, though handsome, 
was less generous than the apology. 

When famine came to Vore, Helvetius' deep 
purse and wise judgment were both to the fore. 
Did the man accomplish less good because, though 
his heart was kind, it was not warm; because, 
though he relieved suffering, there was that in 
his temperament which saved him from suffer- 
ing with it? If the philanthropist must have 
either a cool head or a hot heart, better the cool 
head a thousand times. He will do much less 

Many of Helvetius' charities were performed 


through his valet, whom he bade say nothing about 
them, even after his death. Sometimes he concealed 
from his wife, and she concealed from him, the 
good deeds of which each had been guilty. 

A peasant had been imprisoned for poaching 
on Helvetius' grounds, and his gun confiscated. 
Helvetius went to him, bought back his gun, paid 
his fine, and had him set free, begging his silence 
because Minette had warned him to be severe with 
the man as he deserved. That warning troubled 
her generous heart. She too went to the culprit, 
gave him money to pay his fine and repurchase 
his gun, and vowed him to secrecy. Whether the 
peasant kept the secrets (as well as the price of 
two fines and two guns), and husband and wife 
confessed to each other, history does not relate. 

There is, indeed, a reverse side to Helvetius' 
character as enlightened landowner. Carlyle, in 
his ' Essay on Diderot,' quotes Diderot's ' Voyage 
a Bourbonne,' in which the ex-Farmer-General is 
portrayed as a cruelly strict preserver, living in 
the midst of peasants who broke his windows, 
plundered his garden, tore up his palings, and 
hated him so savagely that he dared not go out 
shooting save with an armed escort of four-and- 
twenty keepers. Diderot added that Helvetius 
had swept away a little village of huts which the 
poor people had built on the fringe of his 


preserves ; that the good philosopher was a 
coward, and the unhappiest of men. But it must 
be remembered that Diderot did not speak from 
first-hand observation, but drew, and said he drew, 
all his information from a Madame de Noce, a 
neighbour of Helvetius. Now happy, unsociable 
people like Helvetius and his wife are not likely 
to be popular in a limited country society, which 
would expect much from them, and get practically 
nothing. Saint-Lambert and Marmontel both 
speak of Helvetius' liberality, generosity, and 
unostentatious benevolence. Morellet, who was 
his closest intimate for many years, adds like 
testimony, and especially mentions his mercy to 
poachers. One story illustrating it has been told. 
Another runs that Helvetius found a man poaching 
under the very windows of his house, and at first 
naturally inclined to wrath, curbed himself : ' If 
you wanted game, why did you not ask me ? I 
would have given it to you.' 

Perhaps the truth of the whole matter lies in 
that anecdote. The keen sportsman and preserver 
did sometimes lose his temper and forget his 
compassion : his better self soon recalled it, and 
that rare disposition of humility and love for his 
fellows hastened to make amends. 

In 1755, the book to which he had devoted 
those long, laborious mornings at Vore (by which 


I must certainly achieve glory, if I am to achieve 
it at all!) was finished at last. It was to be called 
' De I'Esprit ' — not to be translated ' Wit,' as 
Croker translated it, but something much more 
serious — ' On the Mind.' 

It set out to prove a new theory of human 
action, and a new system of morality. Virtue and 
vice? There are no such things. Self-interest, 
rightly understood, is the explanation of the one, 
and self-interest, misunderstood, of the other. 
Selfishness and the passions are the sole main- 
springs of our deeds. So far from character being 
destiny, as Novalis is to declare, destiny is in all 
cases character. Everybody is the creature of 
his environment and his education. Free Will ? 
What free will to be an honest man has the child 
of thieves, brought up to thieve in a slum ? 
Change his condition, and you change him. 
Leave him, and he will steal as certainly as fire 
burns and the waves beat on the shore. As for 
the vaunted superiority of the human intelligence 
over the brutes, ' an accident of physical organisa- 
tion ' can account for that. We are as the brutes, 
only a little better, and the difference is wholly of 
degree, not of kind. 

Put these theories, with their showy falsehood 
and their substratum of truth, on the library table 
of any clever man, and get him to do his best to 



prove them by sophistry and ingenuity, by trick, 
by subterfuge, by illustration — somehow, any- 
how, so that he prove them to the hilt — and the 
result will be pretty well what Helvetius made it. 
There was scarcely a good story, or a bad one, 
he had heard in his early gay life in Paris that he 
did not bring in, by hook or by crook, to point 
and enliven his paradox. Madame de Graffigny 
told Bettinelli that nearly all the notes were the 
' sweepings ' of her salon. 

' On the Mind ' is entertaining or nothing — diffi- 
culties presented solely that they may be wittil}^ 
demolished — easy, inaccurate, trifling ; a style ' in- 
sinuating and caressing . . . made for light minds, 
young people and women,' says Damiron ; a book 
which fashion might skip at its toilette, and then, 
on the strength of remembering two or three of 
its dubious anecdotes, claim a complete knowledge 
of its bizarre philosophy. For it was but a 
hizarrerie — a jeu d' esprit — and Helvetius knew it. 
He was merely concerned to see how far his im- 
possible theories could be made plausible, and 
wrote them to catch the public ear, and turn their 
author into the lion and darling of the season. 

When the thing was ready he took it to 
Tercier, the censor, who passed it, suggesting only 
the omission of a few too complimentary references 
to free-thinking Hume. Helvetius cut them out. 


Malesherbes, during its printing, observed uneasily 
that the book contained ' some very strong things ' 
— insolent remarks, for instance, on that dear, 
crusted old despotism under which we all live, 
and certainly a suggestion that any means to over- 
throw tyranny are permissible. But, all the same, 
in May 1768 it received its privilege. Majesty was 
graciously pleased to accept a copy from the author, 
our maitre d'hotel. It was already in the hands of 
the philosophers. And everybody began to read. 

It would not have been wonderful, if the 
theories had had a little more vraisemblance, that 
most people, particularly people who had devoted 
their lives and their fortunes to others, who had 
laboured in poverty that other men might be free 
and rich, should object to see their self-denial set 
down as self-interest, and to be informed that the 
highest aspiration of their soul was really nothing 
but a morbid condition of the body. But, con- 
sidering their manifest absurdity, it is wonderful 
that these assertions were taken seriously. 

Madame du Deffand, indeed, might naturally 
say that in making self-interest the mainspring of 
conduct, Helvetius had revealed everybody's secret. 
He had so certainly discovered hers. But Turgot, 
whose life was to do good, had better have laughed 
at an absurdity than have risen up to condemn it 
as 'philosophy without logic, literature without 



taste, and morality without goodness/ A Con- 
dorcet, whose long devotion to duty was rewarded 
only with ruin and death, need not have troubled 
to loathe it. Eousseau immediately sat down to 
refute it : some of the most inspired pages of his 
' Savoyard Vicar ' still glow with the hatred with 
which it inspired him. Grimm wisely only pooh- 
poohed it. Voltaire grumbled that his pupil had 
promised a book on the Mind, and presented a 
treatise on Matter; that he had 'put friendship 
among the bad passions,' and, much worse than all, 
has actually compared me — me — to two such feeble, 
second-rate luminaries as Crebillon and Fontenelle ! 
No wonder that he found the title, ' De I'Esprit,' 
equivocal, the matter unmethodical, all the new 
things false and all the old ones truisms. 

For a very short time, however, approved or 
disapproved, taken as folly or mistaken for reason, 
the book went its way gaily. It bade fair to 
become what Helvetius had meant it to be — the 
success of a season. But for the besotted stupidity 
of the Government, it never would have been 
anything else. 

One unlucky day the Dauphin, who was more 
virtuous than wise, came out of his room with 
a copy in his hand and fury in his face. ' I am 
going to show the Queen the sort of thing her 
maitre d! hotel prints. 


On August 10, 1758, the privilege for its 
publication was revoked. Tercier was deprived 
of his office. 'On the Mind' was furiously 
attacked in the religious papers. The avocat 
general, Fleury, pronounced it 'an abridgment 
of the Encyclopaedia.' The Archbishop of Paris 
declared it struck at the roots of Christianity. At 
Court, Helvetius was all at once 'regarded as a 
child of perdition, and the Queen pitied his mother 
as if she had produced Anti-Christ.' Eome banned 
the accursed thing. On January 31, 1759, the 
Pope attacked it with his own hand in a letter. 
On February 6 the Parliament of Paris condemned 
it. On February 10 it was publicly burned by 
the hangman, with Voltaire's ' JSfatural Law.' On 
April 9 the Sorbonne censured it, and declared it 
to contain ' the essence of the poisons ' of all modern 

Helvetius, from being the happiest of easy- 
going, benevolent philosophers, found himself, as 
it were in a second, in a position of great danger, 
and what CoUe in his Journal called ' cruel pain. 
His friends hotly urged upon him a retractation 
to soften the certain punishment awaiting him. 
His mother begged it from him with tears. Only 
Minette, a sterner and a braver soul, refused, 
though ' a great personage ' besought her, to add 
her own entreaties to that end. 


Still, it had to be done. Something of a coward 
this Helvetius, as CoUe suggested now, as Diderot 
had suggested before ? The rich and easy life he had 
led does not breed courage certainly. But, after 
all, Helvetius only did what Voltaire and many a 
better man declared it was essential to do in that 
day. He produced a ' Letter from the Eeverend 
Father . . . Jesuit,' in which he stated that he 
had written in perfect innocence and simplicity, 
and (this was undoubtedly true) that he had not 
had the slightest idea of the effect his book would 
create. He added, in the stiff phraseology of the 
time, words to the effect that he was an exceedingly 
religious man and very sorry indeed. The amende 
was so far accepted that the Parliament simply 
condemned him to give up his stewardship, and 
exiled him for two years to Yore. 

What the book could never have done for 
itself, or for its author, persecution did for them 
both. ' On the Mind ' became not the success of 
a season, but one of the most famous books of 
the century. The men who had hated it, and had 
not particularly loved Helvetius, flocked round 
him now. Voltaire forgave him all injuries, in- 
tentional or unintentional. ' What a fuss about 
an omelette ! ' he had exclaimed when he heard 
of the burning. How abominably unjust to per- 
secute a man for such an airy trifle as that! 


'^'' I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to 
the death your right to say it,' was his attitude 
now.^But he soon came, as a Voltaire would 
come, to swearing that there was no more mate- 
rialism in ' On the Mind ' than in Locke, and a 
thousand more daring things in 'The Spirit of 
Laws.' Turgot and Condor cet forgave the philo- 
sophy, in their pity for the philosopher. D'Alem- 
bert made common cause with the man with whom 
he had nothing else in common. Eousseau in- 
stantly stopped writing his refutation. Diderot 
roundly swore ' On the Mind ' was one of the great 
books of the age. Though Eome had censured it, 
cardinals wrote to condole with its author on the 
treatment it had received. It was translated into 
almost all European languages. Presently, Eng- 
land published an edition of her own. And Hel- 
vetius, when that two years' exile — a punishment 
surely only in name? — was over, returning to 
Paris, found himself the most distinguished man in 
the capital. 

In their fine hotel in the Eue Sainte-Anne 
(Eue Helvetius, the municipality of 1792 re- 
christened it, and Eue Saint -Helvetius, the 
cockers of Paris !) he and his wife received the 
flower of French society. Turgot introduced to 
them Morellet, who soon became a daily visitor, 
rode with them in the Bois, and stayed with them 


in the country. To their Tuesday dinners at 
two o'clock came Condorcet, d'Alembert, Diderot, 
d'Holbach, Galiani, Marmontel, Saint-Lambert, 
Eaynal, Gibbon, and Hume—' the States-General 
of the human mind,' says Garat. Only time- 
serving Buffon, in order not to offend the Court, 
gave up visiting at the house. If Galiani found 
the religious, or irreligious, views of the salon 
too free, Madame his hostess shared his opinion, 
and would often purposely disturb a too daring 
conversation by drawing aside one of the coterie 
to talk with her a part. Helvetius himself was 
still, as he had ever been, listener rather than 
talker ; or talker chiefly when he laid before his 
friends, with a naivete and simplicity wholly at 
variance with the sophistry and artificiality of his 
writing, the difficulties he had encountered in it that 
morning, or some theories which it had suggested. 

Sometimes, directly dinner was over, he slipped 
out to the opera, and left his wife to do the 
honours alone. When they were not entertaining 
themselves, they rarely went out, unless it were 
on Fridays to Madame Necker's. 'Jealous ot 
his wife,' said acid Grimm, accounting for this 
unsociability. 'Happy with her,' is perhaps a 
truer solution. 

But if their own entourage was thus satisfactory, 
the Court was still bitterly hostile. Though Hel- 


vetius, of course, knew very well that that hostility 
had been the advertisement to which his book 
owed everything, still, its injustice rankled. 

Admiring England invited him to her shores ; 
and on March 10, 1764, he landed there, accom- 
panied by his two daughters, Elizabeth and 
Genevieve, who, being only ten and twelve years 
respectively, were certainly rather young for their 
father to be seeking husbands for them among 
' the immaculate members of our august and 
incorruptible senate,' as Horace Walpole declared 
that he was. 

All the great people, including King George 
the Third, received the persecuted philosopher 
with empressement. ' Savants and politicians ' 
flocked to be introduced to him. Gibbon found 
him ' a sensible man, an agreeable companion, and 
the worthiest creature in the world.' Hume 
(remembering the compliments it contained and 
the many more it would have contained but for 
that wretched censor) naturally thought ' On the 
Mind ' the most pleasing of writings, and had even 
entered into an agreement with its author to 
translate it into English, if he, on his part, would 
translate Hume's philosophical works into French. 
(This bargain was never concluded.) Warburton, 
indeed, declined to meet this French ' rogue and 
atheist' at dinner. But Helvetius, as a whole, 


had every reason to like Englishmen, and he came 
back to France, Diderot told Mademoiselle Yolland, 
as madly attached to England as d'Holbach was 
the reverse. ' This poor Helvetius,' says Diderot, 
to excuse him, 'saw only in England the per- 
secutions his book had brought him in France.' 
There may certainly be truth in that. 

A year later, in 1765, he went to stay with 
Frederick the Great. That astute monarch had not 
at all approved of ' On the Mind.' ' If I wanted 
to punish a province, I would give it to philo- 
sophers to govern,' said he. But he found Hel- 
v^tius, as all the world found him, a thousand 
times better than his book, and observed very 
justly that in writing he had much better have 
consulted his heart than his head. 

But that was what Helvetius could never do. 

When he got back to Yore, to Minette 
and the little daughters (he had not found any 
spotless and disinterested members of parliament 
to marry them and enjoy their fortunes of fifty 
thousand pounds apiece), he settled down to 
literature again and wrote, with seven years' severe 
and unremitting labour, ' On Man, his Intellectual 
Faculties, and his Education,' which was a sort of 
defence of ' On the Mind ' and an answer to the 
criticisms both friends and foes had brought 
against that work. If he had been persistently 


lively on ' Mind,' he was persistently dull on 
' Man.' When it was published, after his death, 
only a few friends who had loved its author de- 
fended it. Mademoiselle de Lespinasse voiced a 
very general opinion when she declared herself 
' staggered ' at its preposterous length ; and Grimm 
(of course) declared that, for his part, he would 
rather have ten lines of the dear little Abbe 
Galiani than ten volumes such as that. 

Meanwhile, it had given Helvetius the best 
solace chagrins and declining life can have — a 
regular occupation. He was not old, and he was 
framed, says Guillois, to be a centenarian. But 
at that epoch men spent their health and strength 
with such fearful prodigality in their youth, that 
they rarely lived beyond what is now called 
middle age. Helvetius was not more than five- 
and-fifty when he became conscious of failing 
powers. Sport, which had been the delight of 
his life, lost its zest. The bankrupt condition of 
his country, her light-hearted descent to ruin, lay 
heavily now on a soul framed by nature to take the 
world serenely and to see the future fair. He was 
occupied, it is true, to the end in those works of 
benevolence and kindness which pay an almost 
certain interest in happiness to him who invests in 
them. Then, too, to the last, there was his wife, 
who might have loved a better man than he, but 


who — love, fortunately for most people, not being 
given entirely to worth — spent on him the fidelity 
and devotion of her life. 

On December 26, 1771, Helvetius died. He 
was buried in the Church of Saint-Eoch, in Paris. 

Minette, a very rich widow, bought a house 
in Auteuil, where, visited by Turgot, Condorcet, 
Benjamin Franklin, Morellet, and the famous 
young doctor, Cabanis, she lived ' to love those 
her husband had loved, and to do good to those he 
had benefited.' Franklin, it is said, would fain 
have married her. And Turgot — who knows? 
Elizabeth and Genevieve, enormously rich heir- 
esses, were married on the same day, a year after 
their father's death, each to a Count. 

In 1772, 'On Man' was published, with the 
reception which has been recorded. That early 
poem, ' Happiness,' also now publicly appeared for 
the first time, with a prose preface by Saint- 
Lambert — the prose, said Galiani, being much 
better than the verse. 

To Helvetius' works, or rather to his work, for 
' On the Mind ' is the only one that counts, is now 
generally meted the judgment which should have 
been meted to it when it appeared. Catch thistle- 
down, imprison it, examine it beneath a microscope, 
and a hundred learned botanists will soon be 
confabulating and fighting over it. Put it in the 


free air and sunshine — and, lo ! it is gone. ' On 
the Mind' was but thistledown, and the winds 
have blown it away. 

But the man who wrote it deserves recollection 
because, though he wrote it, he and Turgot alone 
among their compeers realised in practice that the 
best way to do good to mankind is to do good 
to individual man, here and to-day, and that the 
surest means to relieve the sorrows of the world is 
to help the one poor Lazarus lying, full of sores, 
at the gate. 



Among Voltaire's friends Turgot and Condorcet 
at least were not merely great, but also good 
men. Even Condorcet, though himself of virtuous 
and noble life, had not that high standard of living, 
that sterner modern code of purity and upright- 
ness, which were remarkably Turgot's. 

But Turgot was something more even than the 
best man of his party. He was the best worker. 
While Voltaire clamoured and wept for humanity, 
while d'Alembert thought, Grimm wrote, Diderot 
talked, and Condorcet dreamed and died, Turgot 
laboured. Broad and bold in aim, he was yet con- 
tent to do what he could. Of him it might never 
be said ' L'amour du mieux t'aura interdit du bien.' 
To do one's best here and now, with the wretched 
tools one has to hand, in the teeth of indolence, 
obstinacy, and the spirit of routine, to compromise 
where one cannot overcome, and instead of sitting 
picturing some golden future, to do at once the 
little one can — that was this statesman's policy. 

From, an Engraving by Le Beau, after the Portrait by Troy. 


It was so far successful, that all men now allow 
that if any human power could have stemmed the 
avalanche of the French Eevolution, it would have 
been the reforms of Turgot. 

His father was the Provost of Merchants in 
Paris, and has earned the gratitude of Parisians 
by enlarging the Quai de I'Horloge and joining it by 
a bridge to the opposite bank of the Seine, and by 
erecting the fountain in the Eue de Grenelle de 
St. Germain. 

Anne Eobert Jacques was his third son, and a 
timid, shy little creature. His mother, who, en 
vraieParisienne, thought everything of appearance 
and manners, worried him on the subject of his 
clumsiness and stupidity, which naturally made 
the child self-conscious and increased the faults 
fourfold. When visitors arrived to flatter Madame 
by admiring her children, Anne Eobert hid under 
the sofa or the table ; and when he was removed 
from his retreat, could produce no company 
manners at all. No wonder the mother never even 
suspected the strong intellect and the wonderful 
character that so much awkwardness concealed. 

Anne Eobert's birth was contemporaneous 
with Voltaire's visit to England, and took place 
on May 10, 1727. The child had already two 
brothers. The eldest was bound, after the foolish 
custom of the day, to follow his father's profession ; 


the second brother must go into the army ; and 
for Anne Kobert there was nothing left but the 

He followed Voltaire and Helvetius at the 
school of Louis-le-Grand, and when sufficiently 
advanced, moved on to the College of Plessis. 
As a schoolboy his pocket-money disappeared 
with the usual rapidity, but not in the usual way. 
This shy little student gave it to his poorer com- 
panions, to buy books. From the time he was 
sixteen — that is in 1743 — until 1750, he was 
a divinity student. At Saint-Sulpice, whither 
he went in 1748 on leaving Plessis, he took his 
degree as a Theological Bachelor, and from there 
entered the Sorbonne. 

The Sorbonne, which was swept away by the 
Eevolution, was a very ancient Theological College 
and in some respects not unlike an English 
university. Young Turgot found there Morellet 
and Lomenie de Brienne, besides a certain Abbe 
de Cice, to whom in 1749 he addressed one of the 
first of his writings, a ' Letter on Paper Money.' 

In 1749, Turgot was made Prior of the 
Sorbonne, in which role he had to deliver two 
Latin lectures, choosing for his themes, 'The 
Advantages of Christianity,' and ' The Advance of 
the Mind of Man.' All the time he was reading, 
thinking, observing on his own account, studying 


especially Locke, Bayle, Clarke, and Voltaire. A 
priest he soon knew lie could not be. To be sure, 
the fact that his friend Lomenie de Brienne is a 
sceptic will not prevent him becoming a cardinal 
and Archbishop of Toulouse ; he would have been 
Archbishop of Paris had his Majesty not been so 
painfully particular as to demand that the Primate 
of the capital should at least believe in a God. 
But Turgot was of other metal and was not 
minded to live a lie. All his friends begged him 
to keep to the lucrative career assigned him, 
surely, by Providence! 'You will be a bishop,' 
says Cice comfortably, 'and then you can be a 
statesman at your leisure.' 

The argument was very seductive ; but this 
student was in every respect unlike other students, 
with a character breathing a higher and finer air 
than theirs. Morellet records, not without the 
suspicion of a sneer, that from their coarse boyish 
jokes he shrank as one shrinks from a blow. 
Even Condorcet, himself so pure in life, laughed 
at people wasting time in quenching the desires of 
the flesh; but Turgot vindicated purity as well 
as practised it, and reached a level of principle, 
as of conduct, which in the eighteenth century 
was unfortunately almost unique. 

His father, wiser than most parents in like 
circumstances, countenanced his objections to the 



priesthood. He had already studied law, as well 
as theology. In 1750 he left the Sorbonne, and 
Lom^nie gave a farewell dinner in his rooms, with 
Turgot and Morellet of the party, and the light- 
hearted guests planned a game of tennis behind 
the church of the Sorbonne for the year 1800. 

The year 1800 ! Before then the Sorbonne 
itself had perished with Church, monarchy, and 
nobility; shallow Brienne, having done mighty 
mischief, had poisoned himself in the chateau his 
ill-earned wealth had been gained to restore; 
Morellet was writing revolutionary pamphlets; 
and Turgot was dead. 

In 1752, two years after he left the Sorbonne, 
Anne Eobert obtained the legal post of Deputy 
Counsellor of the Procurator-General, and a year 
later was made Master of Bequests. 

One must picture him at this time as a tall, 
broad-shouldered, rather handsome man, with that 
old boyish constraint in his manner, and that 
strict high-mindedness which his own generation 
could not be expected to find attractive. Add to 
these qualities that he was not in the least carried 
away by dreams and visions, as were nearly all his 
friends, that even then he saw the world as it was, 
and meant to do with it what he could — that, 
though in lofty aim he may have been an ideahst, 
he never fell into the idealist's fault of believing 


that, because there is everything to do, he must 
do everything, or nothing. Just, reasonable, 
practical — what a wholesome contrast to your 
visionary Eousseaus, ay, and to your impulsive 
Voltaires ! He was not a brilliant person, this ; it 
is said that he was slow in everything he under- 
took. Nor had he given over the vigour of his 
youth and the strength of his understanding to 
any one party. He was studying them all. 

He was about three or four and twenty when 
he first began to go into the intellectual society of 
Paris — when Montesquieu, d'Alembert, Galiani, 
Helvetius, found the stiffness of manner more than 
redeemed by the wealth of the mind. Presently 
he was introduced to Madame de Graffigny, and 
complimented her by writing a long review of her 
'Letters from a Peruvian,' which, as giving his 
own views on education, on marriage, and on the 
fashionable avoidance of parenthood, retains all its 
interest. It is strange to hear a pre-Eevolutionary 
Frenchman urging love-marriages — ' Because we 
are sometimes deceived, it is concluded we ought 
never to choose' — and strange also that, out of 
all the great reformers with whom his name 
is associated, Turgot alone perceived the fearful 
havoc which neglect of family duties makes in the 
well-being of the State. 

He was presented to Madame de Graffigny by her 

p 2 


niece, Mademoiselle de Ligniville. The bright and 
charming Minette naturally did not find it at all 
difficult to draw Anne Eobert of five-and-twenty 
from the intellectual society of her aunt's salon to 
a game of battledore and shuttlecock a deux. 
Morellet, watching the pair, professed himself 
pained and astonished that their friendship did not 
end as nearly all such friendships do and should. 

Most ol Turgot's biographers have sought the 
reason why Mademoiselle de Ligniville became 
Madame Helvetius and not Madame Turgot — and 
have not found it. As for Turgot, he said 
nothing. It remains idle to speculate whether he 
conceived for her a passion, which his gaucherie 
and shyness, perhaps, prevented her from return- 
ing ; or whether he had already devoted his life 
to his public duty, and thought that private 
happiness would be deterrent and not spur to his 
work for the race. An unhappy or an unrequited 
affection is one of the finest incentives to labour 
and success one can have. It may be that Turgot 
had it. The only certain facts are that Minette 
married Helvetius, and that Turgot remained her 
life-long friend. 

In 1754 he made the acquaintance of Quesnay 
and of de Gournay, the political economists, who 
influenced not a little his life and thought. He 
soon began writing articles for the Encyclopedia, 


though he never joined in that battle-cry ol the 
Encyclopasdists, ^crasez rinfdme, and was wholly 
without sympathy for the atheism of d'Holbach 
and the materialism of Helvetius. Turgot, indeed, 
may be said to have been, in the broadest accepta- 
tion of the term, a Christian ; or rather he would 
be called, and call himself, a Christian to-day. 
But his Christianity was not of Eome nor yet of 
Protestantism, but that in whose honest doubt 
there lives more faith than in half the creeds. He 
certainly gave little expression to it. It was the 
religion of the wise man — which he never tells. 

When he was on a geologising tour in Switzer- 
land, in 1760, he saw the great Pontiff of the Church 
of Antichrist at Delices. That generous old person 
was warm in delight and admiration for his guest. 
D'Alembert had introduced him, and d'Alem- 
bert's friends must always be welcome. And then 
Turgot's article on ' Existence ' in the Encyclopaedia 
had made even more impression on this impres- 
sionable Voltaire than on the world of letters in 
general. He took this young disciple to his heart 
at once. Well, then, if he is not precisely a 
disciple, he is at least a most 'lovable philo- 
sopher,' and ' much fitter to instruct me than I 
am to instruct him ! ' It was Voltaire who was 
dazzled by the young man's splendid possibilities, 
not the young man who was dazzled by Voltaire's 


matchless fame and daring genius. Turgot was 
never dazzled ; it was his greatness, if it was also 
his misfortune, to see men and the world exactly 
as they are. 

In 1761 he was made Intendant of Limoges. 
It was the great opportunity; he had wanted 
practical work — not to think, to write, or to 
dream. Voltaire wrote of him afterwards as one 
' qui ne chercha le vrai que pour faire le bien.' 
He wanted to Do ; and here was everything to be 

The picture of provincial France before the 
Ee volution has been painted often, but the subject 
is one of which the painter can never tire and to 
which he can never do justice. 

The Limoges which Turgot found was one of 
the most beautiful districts of France — and one of 
the most wretched. Here, on the one side, rose 
the chateaux of the great absentee noblemen, who, 
always at Court, left behind them middlemen to 
wring from the poor innumerable dues, with which 
my lord, forsooth, must pay his debts of honour 
and make a fine figure at Versailles. The few 
nobles who did live on their country estates ex- 
pected their new young Intendant to be an agree- 
able social light, as his predecessors had been, 
who would keep, for the elite of the neighbour- 
hood, an open house where one would naturally find 


good wine, rich fare, and delightful, doubtful 

On the other hand were the clergy — often 
ignorant, but generally cunning enough to play 
on the deeper ignorance of their flock by threats 
of the Hereafter, and to keep from them that 
knowledge which is the death-blow of superstition. 

Then there were the poor. Picture a peasantry 
whose homes were windowless, one-roomed huts 
of peat or clay; who subsisted, in times of 
plenty, on roots, chestnuts, and a little black 
bread; who had neither schools nor hospitals, 
teachers nor doctors ; who were the constant prey 
of pestilence and famine ; whose bodies were the 
possession of their lords, and whose dim souls were 
the perquisites of the priests. Consider that these 
people were not allowed to fence such miserable 
pieces of land as they might possess, lest they 
should interfere with my lord's hunting; nor to 
manure their wretched crops, lest they should spoil 
the flavour of his game ; nor to weed them, lest 
they should disturb his partridges. Consider that, 
if such land could have borne any fruit, a special 
permission was required to allow its owners to 
build a shed to store it in. Consider that their 
villages, in which they herded like beasts, were 
separated from other villages by roads so vile 
that they would have rendered commerce difficult. 


if legal trammels had not made it impossible. 
Consider that these people had been scourged for 
generations by hundreds of unjust and senseless 
laws, made by and for the benefit of their op- 
pressors, and that they were now the victims of 
taxes whose very name has become an indictment, 
and whose description is a justification of the 
French Kevolution. 

On the one flank they were whipped by the 
taille — the tax on the income and property of the 
poor, which absorbed one-half of the net products 
of their lands — and on the other by the corvee^ 
which compelled them to give yearly twelve or 
fifteen days' unpaid labour on the roads and the 
use of a horse and cart, if they had them. The 
milice demanded from each parish its quota of 
soldiers (the rich being exempt as usual), and 
compelled the parishes to lodge passing detach- 
ments of military and to lend cattle to draw the 
military equipages. The gahelle, or tax on salt, 
forced each poor man to buy seven pounds of salt 
per annum — whether, as in one province, it was 
a halfpenny a pound, or, as in another, it was 
sixpence — and let the noble, the priest, and the 
Government official go free. Toll-gates were so 
numerous in the country that it is said fish brought 
from Harfleur to Paris paid eleven times its value 
on the journey. Wine was taxed ; corn was taxed. 


But this was not all. If these taxes were 
cruelly unjust, they were settled and regular. 
Irregular taxes could be levied at any moment 
at the caprice of the despot at Versailles, who no 
more realised the condition of his peasantry than 
an ordinary Briton realises the condition of a tribe 
of Hottentots. One, called with an exquisite irony 
the Tax of the Joyful Accession, had been raised 
when Louis the Fifteenth reached the throne of 
France — to topple it down the abyss. Another 
was the vingtieme, or tax on the twentieth part of 
a franc, which could be doubled or trebled at the 
pleasure of the Government. 

Apart altogether from the taxes, the peasantry 
were subject to tithes exacted by the Church, itself 
exempt from all taxation, to large fees for christen- 
ing and marrying, for getting out of the misery of 
this world and avoiding worse misery in the next. 

The clergy were on the spot to exact these dues, 
just as the middleman was on the spot to exact 
the dues for the nobles. Some of these dues and 
seigneurial rights are so shameful and disgusting 
that their very terms are unrepeatable. Even that 
vile age permitted many of them to lapse and 
become a dead letter; but the number, and the 
full measure of the iniquity of those that were 
insisted on, has never been counted, and will never 
be known until the Day of Judgment. 


What effect would hundreds of years of such 
oppression have on the character of the oppressed? 
Hopeless, filthy, degraded, superstitious with the 
craven superstition which made them the easy 
prey of their unscrupulous clergy and left them 
wholly sensual and stupid; as animals, without the 
animals' instinctive joy of life and fearlessness of 
the morrow ; with no ambitions for themselves or 
the children who turned to curse them for having 
brought them into such a world ; with no time to 
dream or love, no time for the tenderness which 
makes Hfe, life indeed — they toiled for a few cruel 
years because they feared to die, and died because 
they feared to live. Such were the people Turgot 
was sent to redeem. 

What wonder that many men gave up such a 
task in despair ; that many even good men found 
it easier to prophesy a Golden Age in luxurious 
Paris than to fight hand to hand against the awful 
odds of such an awful reality ? Turgot was thirty- 
four when he went to Limoges, and forty-seven 
when he left it. He spent there the most vigorous 
years of his life ; if he did not do there his most 
famous work, he did his noblest. 

He began at once. It was nothing to him that 
his own caste shot out the lip and scorned him. 
Cold and awkward in manner, regular and austere 
in habit, and as pure as a good woman, of course 


they hated him. But it was much to him that 
the clergy who ruled the people were also his foes, 
that that very people themselves were so dull and 
hopeless, that they too suspected his motives and 
concluded that because for them every change 
had always been for the worse, every change 
alwaj^s would be. Slowly, gradually, he gained 
the favour of the priest and the love of the flock. 
He could not turn their hell into heaven : he 
could not make earth at all what Condorcet, up- 
lifted in noble vision, would dream it yet might 
be. But he could do something. 

In 1765, he procured for Limoges an edict re- 
storing free trade in grain in that province. Ver- 
sailles, wholly abandoned to its amusements, did 
not in the least care whether edicts were granted 
or whether they were revoked. Turgot did care. 
He perceived that the Court was not minded to be 
plagued with his reforms ; and he plagued it till 
it gave him what he wanted — to go away. 

Then he turned to the other taxes. The exist- 
ence of a privileged class which pays nothing and 
devours much by its shameful exactions, is itself a 
monstrous thing. Taille is the crowning iniquity ; 
but it will take a Eeign of Terror to kill it. In the 
meantime Turgot, in the teeth of the besotted 
ignorance and opposition of the wretched beings 


he was trying to help, could and did see that it 
was fairly administered. 

In place of the personal service demanded by 
the corvee, he substituted a money- tax ; which was 
better for the taxed and better also for the roads. 

With regard to the milice, he proposed wide 
changes. But since the Government would not 
rouse itself to act on the proposals, he took 
advantage of its self-indulgent indifierence and 
permitted evasions of the law ; when an unlucky 
creature drew a black ticket in the conscription 
in Limoges, the new Intendant permitted him to 
find a substitute or to pay a fee. He also built 
barracks, which removed the necessity for quarter- 
ing the soldiers on the poor. 

The fearful trammels which ' crippled trade and 
industry and doomed labour to sterility,' he in 
part removed. He made new roads ; he became 
President of the first Agricultural Society in the 
district ; he founded a veterinary college. In the 
teeth of strong opposition he promoted the culti- 
vation of the potato; and by having it served 
daily at his own table proved to the ignorance of 
the peasants that it was at least safe for human 
food. He also introduced the growth of clover, 
and entirely suppressed a worrying little tax on 
cattle. He first brought to Limoges a properly 
quahfied midwife, who taught her business to 


other women. This was the beginning of the 
Hospice de la Maternite. During Turgot's Inten- 
dancy the china clay, of which the famous 
Limoges pottery was afterwards made, was dis- 

Besides these public acts, he was engaged in 
hundreds of small individual charities. Among 
others, he educated at his own expense a youth 
whose father had been entirely ruined by taxation 
and famine. The youth was Vergniaud, after- 
wards the stirring orator of the Ee volution. 

In his home-life Turgot remained most frugal 
and laborious, treating his servants with a benevo- 
lence then accounted contemptible, and working 
out his quiet schemes with an infinite patience and 
thoroughness. When he was offered the richer 
Intendancy of Lyons, he would not take it. Here, 
as he said of himself, though he was ' the com- 
pulsory instrument of great evil,' he was doing a 
little good. Only a little, it might be. But if every 
man did the little he could — what a different 
world ! 

In 1765, he paid a visit to Paris, and in the 
Galas case, made famous by Voltaire, spoke on the 
side of tolerance with a vehemence unusual to 
him. Morellet, d'Alembert, and Mademoiselle de 
Lespinasse were still his friends. Condorcet was 
in his closest intimacy, and destined hereafter to 


write his Life — ' one of the wisest and noblest of 
lives,' says John Stuart Mill, ' delineated by one of 
the noblest and wisest of men.' 

In Paris, he met Adam Smith, the political 
economist. As a result of their acquaintance 
Turgot produced in the next year his ' Eeflections 
on the Eeformation and Distribution of Wealth,' 
fertile in conception, arid in style, and anticipat- 
ing many of the ideas familiar to English readers 
through Adam Smith's ' Wealth of Nations.' 

But the insistent claims of Limoges on his time 
and pity narrowed his hours for study, even for 
the study that would serve it well. In 1767 he 
cleared the province of wolves, by a system ana- 
logous to that by which Edgar rid Wales of the 
same pest. 

Then, in 1770, Limoges and its Intendant began 
their fight with want. When Turgot came to the 
province, the wretched place was a million francs 
in arrears for its taxes. Some he had certainly 
lessened. The work he had started was just 
beginning to bear its first little harvest of good, 
when there came the withering blast of the two 
years' famine. Its horrors were unthinkable. 
Turgot wrote to Terrai, the Controller-General, 
that it was impossible to extort the taxes and the 
arrears without ruin — ay, and with ruin — to the 
taxed. The people could not only not pay what 


was demanded of them, but they had nothing 
to sell for the barren necessities of their own 
existence. God knows they had learnt by long 
and bitter practice to subsist on little enough ! 
But now they must surely sit down and die. 

Strong and calm, Turgot rose up again. 
From the Parliament at Bordeaux he obtained 
permission to levy a tax on the rich in aid of the 
sufferers. He himself opened workshops in which 
he gave work, and paid for it, not in coin, which 
would certainly be spent at the nearest cabaret, 
but in leather tickets which could be exchanged 
for food at the cheap provision shops, also of his 
own institution. 

Far beyond his age in every practical scheme 
for the benefit of mankind, he was beyond our 
own age in that he clearly perceived that the free 
soup-kitchen, and all the sentimental philanthropy 
which gives money in lieu of work, instead of 
paying money for work, must be demoralising, 
and in the long run create more misery than it 
relieves. ' Such distributions,' said he, ' have the 
effect of accustoming the people to mendicity.' 
Even through a famine he sent to prison every 
beggar he could lay hands on. Then, again far 
beyond his age, he induced the ladies of the 
district to teach the poor girls needlework ; and 
so to give them ' the best and most useful kinds 


of alms — the means to earn.* The fight was 
long and hard. But it had its reward. The 
people came to love him who had helped them 
to help themselves ; who had given them, not the 
bitter bread and scornful dole of charity, but the 
power to earn a livelihood and their first taste 
of self-respect. 

On May 10, 1774, Louis the Sixteenth suc- 
ceeded to the throne of sixty-six kings ; and on 
July 20, Turgot was made Minister of Marine 
and thus called to wider and fuller work. The 
Limogian peasants clung about his knees with 
tears, and the Limogian nobles rejoiced openly at 
his departure. The one leave-taking was as great 
a compliment as the other. 

The merits of this ' virtuous philosophic Tur- 
got, with a whole reformed France in his head,' 
had not been in the least the reason of his pro- 
motion. But schoolfellow Cice had whispered 
pleasant things of him to Madame Maurepas, the 
wife of the Minister ; and Madame had settled 
the matter with her husband, who was a lively 
shrewd old man of seventy-four, not inconve- 
nienced by any idea of duty, and with a very 
strong sense of humour. 

Turgot was Minister of Marine for just five 
weeks ; but in that time he had eighteen months' 
arrears of wages paid to a gang of workmen at 


Brest, and made many plans for the improvement 
of the colonies, which more than twenty years 
ago, at the Sorbonne, he had significantly com- 
pared to * fruits which cling to the parent tree, 
only until they are ripe.' On August 24, 1774, 
he was made Controller-General of Finances in 
the place of Terrai. 

It sounded a fine position, but was it ? Limoges 
represented all France in little. A ruined Treasury, 
a starving people, in high places corruption and 
exaction, and in low places misery such as has 
rarely been seen since the world began. 

Terrai, profligate and dissolute — ' What does 
he want with a muff?' said witty Mademoiselle 
Arnould when he had appeared with one in 
winter ; ' his hands are always in our pockets ' — 
had left to his successor, debt, bankruptcy, chaos. 
The King was not quite twenty, weak with the 
amiable weakness which is often more disastrous 
in a ruler than vice. The Queen was nineteen, 
careless and gay, loving pleasure and her own 
way, and meaning to have both in spite of all the 
controllers in the world. Maurepas, being un- 
disturbed by principles, would readily abandon 
his protege if he perceived for himself the least 
danger in that patronage. Voltaire, indeed, wrote 
that he saw in Turgot's appointment a new heaven 
and a new earth, and the enlightened among the 



people dreamt that the Millennium had come, but 
Voltaire was but a voice crying in the wilderness, 
and in the councils of State the people had neither 
lot nor part. 

Once again Turgot, realising to the full the 
difficulties, the impossibilities even, of his position, 
resolved to do what he could. Within a few 
hours of his appointment he wrote a long letter 
to the King, urging the absolute necessity of 
economy in every department, denouncing bribes, 
privileges, exemptions, and pleading — daring to 
plead — equality in the imposition of taxes. No 
bankruptcy, no increase of taxation, no loans — 
this was to be the motto of his Controller ship. 
' I feel all the perils to which I expose myself,' he 
wrote. He was not even religious in the sense — 
— what 'a sense! — that officials were expected to 
be religious. 'You have given me a Controller 
who never goes to Mass,' grumbled Louis to 
Maurepas. ' Sire,' answered the Minister, very 
happily, ' Terrai always went.' 

The new ControUership was still a nine days' 
wonder when Turgot restored throughout France 
what he had restored in Limoges — free trade in 
grain. In 1770 he had written on the subject 
some famous ' Letters ' in answer to Terrai's revo- 
cation of the edict and the witty ' Dialogues ' of 
GaHani which supported that revocation. Then, 


bolder still, he suppressed an abominable piece 
of official jobbery, the Pot de Vin, or bribe of 
100,000 crowns which the Farmers-General had 
always presented to the Controller when he signed 
a new edict. If the Farmers turned away sulkily, 
angry with a generosity they were by no means 
prepared to imitate, from the country came a long 
burst of passionate applause. 

' It is only M. Turgot and I who love the 
people,' said the King. Well, this poor Louis did 
love them, but his was not the love that could 
stand firm by the man sent to save them. ' Every- 
thing for the people, nothing by them,' was 
Turgot's motto, and, perhaps, his mistake. The 
King was to be the lever to raise his kingdom ; 
and the weak tool broke in the Minister's hand. 

The first disaster of Turgot's ControUership 
was the disaster that spoiled his Intendancy. In 
1774-6 scarcity of bread made many distrust 
his edict restoring to them free trade in grain. 
With his firm hand over Louis's shaking one he 
suppressed the bread riots of that winter, as it 
was never given to a Bourbon to suppress any- 
thing. But he would not in justice suppress, 
though he might have suppressed, Necker's adverse 
pamphlet on the question, called ' The Legisla- 
tion and Commerce of Grain ; ' though half the 
Encyclopaedists, and many of Turgot's personal 



friends, were led thereby to adopt the opinions of 
the solid Genevan banker. 

In the January of 1775, Turgot presented his 
Budget. The deficit left by Terrai was enormous. 
Let us pay then, said Turgot's sound common- 
sense, the legitimate contracts of Government, 
not by your dear old remedy, taxation, for the 
ruined country can yield no more, but by limit- 
in^^ the expenses of that Government and of the 
Court. Ofiicials and courtiers alike took as a 
judgment from Heaven the fact, that very shortly 
after this monstrous proposal, the audacious pro- 
poser was sharply attacked by the gout. 

Turgot's ControUership lasted in all twenty 
months, and for seven of them he was very ill. 
When he was blamed once for overworking himself 
and trying to force everybody's hand, ' Why, do 
you not know,' he answered simply, ' in my family 
we die of gout at fifty ? ' His present illness kept 
him in his room many weeks, but did not prevent 
him from dictating an enormous correspondence, 
and trying urgently to persuade his master to 
begin his economical reforms by having his coming 
coronation ceremonies performed cheaply at Paris, 
instead of expensively at Eheims ; and to make 
good his professions of tolerance by omitting from 
the service the oath binding him to extirpate 
heretics. Of course Louis was too weak for these 


drastic measures; he characteristically contented 
himself by mumbling the oath, and the senseless 
expenses of the coronation were as large as ever. 

But Turgot, undaunted, went on working. In 
January 1776 he presented to the King what have 
been justly called the Six Fatal Edicts — the first 
for the suppression of corvee, four for the suppres- 
sion of the offices interfering with the provision- 
ing of Paris, and the sixth for the suppression of 
jurandes or the government of privileged corpora- 
tions. The first and sixth were the real cause of 
battle, and embodied one of the great aims of 
Turgot's administration — to make the nobility and 
clergy contribute to the taxes. 

A shrill outcry of indignation rang through 
Versailles. Make us pay ! Us I The Court had 
always scorned Turgot with his shy, quiet manner, 
his gentle aloofness, and the reflection cast, in the 
most odious taste, by the purity of his life on its 
own manner of living. But now it hated him. 
Tax us ! Curtail our extravagances ! Eeduce 
our expenditure! What next? He has already 
abolished a number of our very best sinecures and 
lessened the salaries attached to several enticing 
little offices where we were enormously paid for 
doing nothing gracefully ! He has given posts to 
persons fitted for them instead of to our noble and 
incompetent relations ! If one of v>s (even when 


one of us is the Due d'Orleans himself) wants to 
do something— well— illegal, he will not allow it ! 
As though the makers of law could not be its 
breakers if they chose ! And Versailles rustled 
indignantly in its unpaid-for silks, whispered, mur- 
mured, connived at the fall of this quiet, strong 
person who had not a thought in common with 
them — nor a thought of himself. 

But he had a more dangerous enemy than 
the Court — the Queen. Quick-witted, wilful, im- 
petuous, with a husband whose slow, hesitating 
intellect she must needs despise, clever enough to 
love to meddle with great things, but not wise 
enough to meddle well — ^Marie Antoinette took her 
first deep step down the stairway of ruin when 
she chose to be Turgot's enemy instead of Turgot's 
friend. Could he have saved her too, if she would 
have let him, as, but for her, men thought he might 
have saved France ? God knows. Marie Antoinette 
wanted to be amused, and her particular amuse- 
ment, gambling, was very expensive; she was 
infinitely good-natured and impetuously in love at 
the moment with Madame de Lamballe, and wanted 
for her the revival of the old post of Superintendent 
of the Household, with its enormous emoluments. 
And at her side stood Turgot, saying, ' No.' Mau- 
repas had long since deserted him. It was much 
easier, and safer for one's own interest, to give the 


Queen what she wanted and have done with it. 
As for Louis, he was, as usual, weak with the 
weakness that brought him to the guillotine and 
ended the French monarchy. 

Turgot so far controlled him that the six 
Edicts were registered by the unwilling Parliament 
of Paris. Then Monsieur, afterwards Louis the 
Eighteenth, expressed in a pamphlet of very feeble 
wit the feelings of the upper classes against this 
terrible reformer. That paltry skit had already 
turned the King against his Minister, when 
Maurepas showed him a sharp financial criticism 
on Turgot's calculations as Controller-General, 
and some forged letters purporting to come from 
Turgot and containing expressions offensive to the 
Eoyal Family. Not man enough to take them 
to Turgot and demand explanation, the wretched 
King went on distrusting him and giving him 
feeble hints to resign. 

But until there was a better man to occupy 
his place, Turgot would take no hints. For the 
sake of France he would push those Edicts 
through, and gain his principles before he lost his 

Then another friend failed him. Malesherbes, 
the brave old hero, who was hereafter to defend 
and to die for his King, but who, as Condorcet 
said, found on every subject 'many fors and 


againsts but never one to make him decide/ 
resigned his post in Turgot's government. ' You 
are fortunate,' says hapless Louis gloomily, ' to be 
able to resign. I wish I could.' The storm was 
coming up fast. But the first man on whom it 
was to fall remained calm and staunch. 

On April 30, 1776, Turgot wrote to his King 
a note begging him not to appoint Amelot 
as Malesherbes' successor, and containing these 
ominous words : ' Do not forget, Sire, that it was 
weakness that brought the head of Charles the First 
to the block.' Louis made no answer. Finally, 
the match was put to the tinder of the Queen's 
wrath by Turgot's dismissal from oflBce of her 
worthless protege, de Guines ; and the Minister, 
it was whispered, had also declined to pay a debt 
she had incurred for jewellery, as against the new 
rules he had himself made. Eules for a Queen ! 
This must certainly be the end of Queens or of 
Ministers ! In this case, it was the end of both ; 
only Turgot's fall came first. 

As he was sitting writing, on May 12, 1776, 
Bertin arrived to announce to him that he was no 
longer Controller-General. He had been drawing 
up an edict; laying down his pen he observed 
quietly, 'My successor will finish it.' His suc- 
cessor, it has been well said, was the National 


Two days later, Marie Antoinette wrote 
exultantly to her mother of his dismissal. What 
did she care for the just reproaches of the King 
and of the whole nation, which that old kill- 
joy, Mercy Argenteau, declared that this deed 
would bring on her head ? She would have liked 
her enemy turned out of office and sent to the 
Bastille the very day that de Guines was made a 
Duke. Poor Queen ! Her little triumph was so 
short, and her bitter punishment so long ! 

On May 18, Turgot took farewell of his master 
in language nobly dignified and touching. 'My 
one desire,' he said, 'is that you may find I 
have judged wrongly, that I have warned you of 
imaginary dangers.' 

Clugny was appointed Controller-General ; 
corvee and jurandes were re-established ; the edict 
establishing free trade in grain was revoked. The 
Court rejoiced aloud; the Paris Parliament was 
delighted. Old Voltaire at Ferney, indeed, wept 
and said that this was death before death, that a 
thunderbolt had fallen on his head and his heart ; 
and the wise knew that nothing could save France 

Turgot retired quietly into private life. That 
he was disappointed, not for himself, but for his 
country, is very true. True, too, he was angered 
at the backstairs policy which had dismissed 


him. But far beyond this, there was so much he 
could have done, which now he could never do ! 
Faithful to his life-long principle of gathering up 
the fragments that remain, he read and studied 
much, corresponded with Hume and Adam Smith, 
often met and talked with Franklin, went to see 
Voltaire when he came to Paris in 1778, made 
experiments in chemistry and physics, and was 
active in private benevolence. 

Was the brief evening of his life solitary ? 
The one human affection which, in its perfection, 
makes loneliness impossible, was not his ; or at 
best was his only as a dream or a memory. But 
in the great family of earth's toiling children he 
must have known there were many to love and 
bless him, many he had saved from wrong or from 
sorrow, some whom he had made from beasts 
into men. Another blessing was his— he did 
not long survive his active labours. He died 
March 21, 1781, aged fifty-four. 

A failure, this life? It may be so; but a 
failure beside which many a success is paltry. 

Turgot could not save France from her 
Eevolution, but he gave her, and all countries, 
practical, working theories on government, on the 
liberty of the press, on the best means of helping 
the poor, on the use of riches, on civil, political, 
and rehgious liberty, which are still invaluable. 


He has been justly said to have founded 
modern political economy ; to have bequeathed to 
future generations *the idea of the freedom of 
industry ; ' and to have made ready the way for 
the reforms which are the glory of our own day. 

Among Voltaire's fellow-workers there are far 
more dazzling personalities. But from their fiery 
words, exalted visions, and too glorious hopes one 
turns with a certain sense of relief to this quiet, 
strong, practical man, and understands why the 
people, whose instinct in judging the character of 
their rulers seldom betrays them in the long run, 
specially acclaimed Turgot as a friend. 




Some men do great things incidentally and un- 
intentionally. Pierre Augustin Caron de Beau- 
marchais bothered his clever head scarcely at all 
with schemes for the well-being of his country — 
was Httle concerned with humanity and very 
much with one man — ^himself. Yet by a special 
irony of destiny the author of 'The Marriage 
of Figaro' played one of the chief parts in the 
prelude to the drama of the Kevolution. 

Born in Paris on January 24, 1732, the son of 
a watchmaker with a large family, Pierre Augustin 
Caron early learnt his father's trade, picked up 
a little Latin at a technical school at Alfort and 
the rest of his education from experience and from 
the world. 

A lively, impudent, good-looking boy, young 
Caron was from the first clever with that smart 
cleverness which is as distinct from genius or from 
wisdom, as kindness is distinct from sympathy 

From an Engraving, after Michon, in the Bibliotheaue Nationals, Paris. 


He was as sharp over his watchmaking as over 
everything he undertook in Hfe. He had his first 
lawsuit — the first of so many ! — over a discovery 
he made in his trade, and won it. But he was 
young, gay, musical, and Parisian. His trade was 
only a part of his life. There were debts and 
escapades. Then the watches took to disappearing 
mysteriously out of old Caron's shop ; and finally 
old Caron turned his scapegrace out of doors, till 
the mother pleaded, not in vain, for the prodigal's 

Then the prodigal made the loveliest and 
smallest of watches for Madame de Pompadour's 
ring. The King was pleased to desire one also, 
and the King's daughters, Mesdames, followed 
their father's example ; while the courtiers could 
not, of course, be out of the fashion. Pierre 
Caron, tall, handsome, audacious, was presented 
at Versailles, and made watchmaker to his Majesty. 
In 1755, another piece of luck befell him. (This 
Caron was one of the luckiest of human beings all 
through his life.) 

A pretty young married woman, who had 
noticed him admiringly at Versailles, came to his 
shop to have her watch mended. Caron took it 
back to her house in person. A few months later 
the charming person's elderly husband sold to 
Caron his post at Court, and on November 9, 1755, 



a patent was accorded to the watchmaker's son 
declaring him ' one of the Clerk Controllers of the 
Pantry of our Household.' An agreeable little 
post, this of Pharaoh's butler. Nothing to do, 
only be sure you do it handsomely ! Caron, 
looking exceedingly eiFective and magnificent, 
preceded the King's roast with a sword clanking 
at his side. At the end of a few months his 
predecessor in this arduous occupation died, and 
young Caron married the charming widow, Madame 
Francquet, who was certainly older than himself, 
but not the less agreeable to a very young man 
for that. 

His marriage could not, at least, have been 
one of interest ; or he was so far disinterested that 
he neglected to complete the marriage settlements, 
and when Madame Caron died, in ten months' 
time, Caron found himself penniless. She had, it 
is said, a very small property, but it was apparently 
so small as to be invisible, for no one has ever 
discovered its whereabouts. But it is memorable 
as having suggested to Caron the name by which 
he now called himself, and has been ever since 
known — Beaumar ch ais . 

In a very short time the young widower (he 
was only twenty-five) reappeared at Versailles, 
not as a watchmaker or butler, but as a musician. 

All the social talents had Caron — tact, impu- 


dence, a witty tongue, a delightful voice, added to 
a real talent for the harp, which was the fashion- 
able instrument of the moment. Mesdames killed 
a great deal of the too ample royal leisure with 
music ; Madame Adelaide played every instrument 
down to the horn and the comb. This delightful 
young parvenu is the very man to teach us the 
harp ! He not only did that, but he organised 
concerts, of which he was himself the bright, 
particular star. 

On one occasion the King was so impatient 
for him to begin to play, that he pushed towards 
him his own armchair ; while on another, Mes- 
dames declined the present of a fan on which 
the painter had portrayed their concerts — with- 
out the figure of Beaumarchais. Of course the 
courtiers were jealous. The beautiful insolence 
of his manners, the perfectly good-natured conceit 
(surely one of the most exasperating of the minor 
vices) naturally made him enemies. One scornful 
young noble handed this new favourite, this royal 
instructor, his watch to look at. 

' Sir,' says Beaumarchais, ' since I have given 
up my trade I have become very awkward in such 

' Do not refuse me, I beg.' 

Beaumarchais takes the watch, pretends to 
examine it, and drops it. ' Sir,' says he, with a 


bow to the owner, ' I warned you of my clumsi- 
ness,' and, turning on his heel, leaves the watch 
in fragments on the floor. 

The new courtier was at least a match for the 
old ones. 'I was born to be a courtier,' says 
Figaro. ' To accept, to take, and to ask ; there 
is the secret in three words.' Figaro's father had 
the secret already. Soon he made friends with 
Paris-Duverney, financier and Court banker, 
' asked ' of him the art of making money, and 
'received' so much of it that in 1761 he could 
buy himself a brevet of nobility. He would have 
bought also the post of Master of Woods and 
Forests, but that the other Masters objected so 
lustily to receiving such a bourgeois into their 
order, that even the patronage of Mesdames, and 
his own wit displayed in an amusing pamphlet, 
could not gain the bourgeois his point. So he 
bought the post of Lieutenant-General of the 
King's Preserves instead, and in that capacity sat 
solemnly in a long robe once a week in judgment 
on the poachers of the neighbourhood of Paris. 

In 1764, he made a journey into Spain, where 
one of his sisters, who had married a Spaniard, 
was living, and another had just been jilted with 
a peculiar insolence and brutahty by a man called 
Clavijo. Beaumarchais brought Clavijo to book ; 
the day of the wedding was fixed, when the shifty 


suitor absconded a second time. Beaumarchais 
made the episode famous in his account of the 
affair, which appeared in his Fourth Memoir 
against Goezman in February 1774, and which 
naturally does not tend to the discredit of M. Pierre 
Augustin Caron. 

Besides protecting his sister and exposing her 
betrayer, this energetic person was carrying out 
a secret mission from Duverney and recovering 
bad debts of old Caron's. Then, too, he was 
enormously enjoying Spanish society, and writing 
love-letters to a pretty Creole, Pauline, whom he 
had left in Paris and whom he may magnificently 
condescend to marry if her estates in St. Domingo 
really turn out to be worth consideration. He 
was further corresponding with Voltaire, and, 
richest and most fruitful of all his Spanish trans- 
actions, studying the Spanish stage. 

He came home in 1765. After his return, he 
appeared, in 1767, as a playwright, making his 
debut in one of those heavy and tearful dramas in 
the unfortunate style of Diderot's ' Natural Son.' 
No one reads or acts ' Eugenie ' now ; but when 
the adaptable Caron had shortened and altered it, 
it mildly pleased the playgoing Parisians for a few 

In 1768, Beaumarchais married another widow, 
Madame Leveque, having abandoned Pauline, or 



having been abandoned by her on the score of his 
mercenariness. Madame Leveque was rich and 
young, and when she suddenly died three years 
later there were not wanting envious enemies to 
accuse this aspiring Caron of having poisoned 
both his wives. The fact that their deaths left 
him the poorer might have exonerated him, if his 
own character did not ; but, as Voltaire said — 
Voltaire, who was watching his rise in the world 
with a keen interest, and who rarely made a 
mistake in judging human nature — ' A quick, 
impetuous, passionate man like Beaumarchais 
gives a wife a blow, or even two wives two blows, 
but he does not poison them.' 

It may be noted, moreover, that all the women 
who touched his life adored this Caron. He was 
so handsome and good-natured and successful ! A 
little selfish certainly ; but some women seem to 
love that quality in a man — it gives them so great 
a scope for denying themselves. And then he 
was always so brave and gay ! 

His success now deserted him for a little while. 
He offended the King by suggesting a mot with 
a meaning — Figaro, it seems, was getting apt in 
them already — which a duke gave forth at one of 
the little suppers of Madame Dubarry and which 
displeased his Majesty, who, to be sure, had reason 
to dread hidden meanings. 


Then came the afiair Goezman. 

In 1770 Duverney died, and Beaumarchais 
immediately quarrelled with his heir, the Comte 
de la Blache, and plunged into a lawsuit over a 
sum of fifteen thousand francs. Beaumarchais won 
the first move in the game. But unluckily he had 
more than one iron in the fire just then. He fell 
out fiercely with the Due de Chaulnes over a Made- 
moiselle Mesnard, with the result that the Duke 
was clapped into a fortress, and Beaumarchais into 
the prison of For-l'Eveque. La Blache seized his 
opportunity, brought his lawsuit before the Parlia- 
ment of Paris, represented dumb and imprisoned 
Beaumarchais as the greatest scoundrel unhanged, 
won his cause, seized Beaumarchais' furniture, and 
entirely ruined him. 

Beaumarchais seldom lost his coolness and 
courage, and he did not lose them now. While 
in For-l'Eveque he had been let out on leave three 
or four times. He had taken these chances to 
try to win over to his side Goezman, who was 
Judge-Eeporter in the lawsuit with la Blache, and 
a most unfavourable judge to Beaumarchais. By 
the simple and time-honoured expedient of hand- 
some bribes to the wife, Beaumarchais attempted 
to gain the husband's good will. Madame Goez- 
man perfectly understands that, should Beau- 
marchais lose his cause, she is to return his gifts 

» 2 


of a watch set in diamonds, and of money. The 
cause is lost. She returns the watch and money, 
save only a certain fifteen louis, to which, for 
some absurd raisonnement defemme^ she considers 
herself entitled, and with which she will by no 
means part. Then Councillor Goezman comes 
forward and accuses M. de Beaumarchais of seek- 
ing to corrupt his integrity. 

This ridiculous situation Beaumarchais seized 
as a golden opportunity to restore his credit before 
the world, to dazzle it with his wit, to entice it 
with his audacity, and to make it own him the 
man of matchless cleverness he was. He appealed 
to public opinion, nominally to judge between 
himself and Goezman, in reality to judge between 
him, Goezman, la Blache, the Paris Parliament, 
and all his enemies and rivals whomsoever, in 
four famous Memoirs, which divided Paris into 
two hostile camps and fixed on him the delighted 
attention of Europe. 

Except by name, and for a brilliant quotation 
here and there, few people know the Goezman 
Memoirs now. But in fire, wit, and irony, they are 
little, if at all, inferior to the comedies by which 
Beaumarchais lives. In both are the same gay 
surprises of situation, banter and mockery, parry 
and thrust— every page as light and elusive as 
thistledown borne on a summer breeze. Their 


cleverness gained him the admiration not only of a 
senile King, but of Voltaire as well. Old Ferney 
declared he had never been so much amused in 
his life. ' What a man ! ' he wrote to d'Alembert. 
' He has all the qualities ; ' and again, ' Don't tell 
me he has poisoned his wife, he is much too lively 
and amusing for that.' 

Madame Dubarry had charades acted in her 
apartment, in which an interview between Beau- 
marchais and Madame Goezman was represented 
on the stage. The Memoirs were read aloud in 
the cafes. Of the Fourth, six thousand copies were 
sold in a single day. Horace Walpole delighted 
in them. Madame du DeiFand gossiped of them. 
Bernardin de Saint-Pierre prophesied for Beaumar- 
chais the reputation of Moliere. 

What did it avail then, on February 26, 1774, 
when the case had lasted some three years, to 
give judgment against him, sentence him to civic 
degradation, prohibit him from the occupation of 
any public function, and condemn the Memoirs to 
be burnt as scandalous, libellous, defamatory? 
He was the victor not the less. ' Le monde a beau 
parler, il faut obeir,' says Voltaire. The day after 
the sentence had been pronounced, the Prince de 
Conti and the Due de Chartres feted the criminal, 
and a delightful woman fell in love with him. 
Marie Antoinette named her latest coiffure after a 


joke in the Memoirs. He was so wildly applauded 
when he appeared in public that Sartine, the 
Lieutenant of Police, advised him to appear no 
more. ' It is not enough to be condemned,' says 
Sartine, ' one should be a little modest still.' The 
Maupeou Parliament in attempting to destroy this 
wit had ruined itself. Its ban was worse than 
useless. Beaumarchais was the fashion. 

The King, to be sure, had to enjoin silence 
on this 'terrible advocate,' but he promised him 
a revision of his suit; and then employed him, 
in March, 1774, as his secret agent in England to 
run to earth a person who had threatened to publish 
a scandalous pamphlet on Madame Dubarry. 
Beaumarchais succeeded in his mission. He 
always succeeded. But when he returned to 
France, Louis the Fifteenth was dying, so for all 
his pains his reward was, as he said, ' swollen legs 
and an empty purse.' 

Soon, however, news came of a libel against 
Marie Antoinette which was being prepared in 
London. Off starts Beaumarchais again, pursues 
the libeller (a shifty Jew) to Nuremberg, goes on 
to Vienna to procure from Maria Theresa an extra- 
dition treaty against him, is himself thrown into 
prison for a month, and then liberated with pro- 
fusest apologies and the offer of a thousand ducats. 
All his adventures were delightfully romantic and 


picturesque ; and with his eye for scenic effect, he 
took care they should lose nothing in the telling. 

A year later, in 1775, he came to England on 
another and far more important secret mission con- 
nected with the rebellion of the American colonies. 
It was the one enterprise of his life, it is said, into 
which he put more heart than head. He attended 
parliamentary debates, and was constantly at the 
house of Wilkes. ' All sensible people in England,' 
he wrote to Louis the Sixteenth in September 
1775, 'are convinced that the English colonies 
are lost.' He advised that, while France siiould 
not openly embroil herself with England, she 
should send secret aid to the insurgents. For this 
purpose, financed by his country, he equipped 
for war three ships — his ' navy ' he called it — 
and when he returned to Paris he traded in the 
American interest under the name of Eoderigue, 
Hortalez & Co. 

England was naturally angry when she found 
out how she had been tricked, and America, so far 
as money acknowledgments were concerned, was 
not a little ungrateful. But the clever instrument, 
Beaumarchais, came out of the affair with his 
usual flourish and distinction, and would have 
deserved a paragraph in history, even had he not 
earned a page in literature. 

On February 23, 1775, there was produced at 


the old Comedie Fran^aise in the Eue des Fosses,. 
Saint-Germain des Pres, opposite the famous Cafe 
Procope, a play called ' The Barber of Seville.' 

Accepted by the Comedie rran9aise in 1772, its 
first performance, fixed for Shrove Tuesday 1773, 
lad been stopped by the authorities because just 
t that moment its author was unluckily serving 
term of imprisonment for fighting the Due de 
iiaulnes. Before the next date fixed for its debut, 
had been condemned by the Maupeou Parlia- 
*■ for the afiair with la Blache. The third 
pt was no luckier. The irrepressible creature 
ju§^t published the Fourth Goezman Memoir ! 
_ Vtd now, when the performance really did 
c©Tf:K8iofF, it was a failure. La Harpe declared 
i^fnU IL inordinate length bored people, its bad 
j ^, > irritated them, and its false morality shocked 
them. The parterre was loudly and vulgarly dis- 
gusted, and the boxes yawned behind their fans. 
By Beaumarchais ? He was but mediocre before, 
we remember, in ' Eugenie.' Watchmaker, courtier, 
advocate, secret agent, this — but clearly no play- 
wright ! 

In twenty-four hours Caron had laid violent 
hands on his 'Barber,' shortened him, enlivened 
him, cut out his distasteful jokes and his dubious 
moralities, and 'under the pressure of a discon- 
tented and disappointed public ' turned him into 


a masterpiece. At its second performance the 
play was applauded to the skies. It ran through 
the whole winter season. It delighted its author 
to print it with its title-page running: 'The 
Barber of Seville, Comedy in Four Acts, repre- 
sented and failed at the Comedie rran9aise.' It'l 
drew on him one of his dear lawsuits, and enabled^ 
him to place the rights of dramatists over their '^•. 
works on a new and firm basis, and to found thiO 
first Society of Dramatic Authors. Far above dW* 
it led the way to ' Figaro.' Jne -^ 

The subject of ' The Barber of Seville ' is^' 
time-honoured one of the amorous old guard} ^^i 
who falls in love with his ward; only BeUti- 
marchais' guardian is a wit, not a fool. It * 
defect, indeed, of both his great plays that 
characters are wits. He fell into Sheridan's fa 
and made his personce the mouthpieces of his own 
cleverness. He wholly lacked the far higher and 
finer genius, the exquisite fidelity to life and 
character, which made Shakespeare give to each 
of his creatures the special kind of cleverness, and 
no other, proper to its nature. 

Not the less, Beaumarchais writes with a light- 
ness and efiervescence which are without counter- 
part in dramatic literature. ' The Barber of Seville ' 
was taken, it is said, from an opera of Sedaine's, 
and was itself originally designed to be a comic 


opera. Nothing but a quarrel with the composer of 
the score prevented it from first appearing in that 
form in which it is to-day most familiar to the 

Yet it hardly needs an accompaniment of 
lively music. The airs and the singing are there 
already — in the gay bizarrerie of situation, the 
laughing swing of repartee, and the brilliant 
recitative of the longer speeches. The characters, 
called by Spanish names and dressed in Spanish 
clothes, are thoroughly and essentially French. 
Its exquisite delicacy of touch and its rippling 
mocking gaiety declare it, in fact, not only the 
work of a Frenchman, but one of the most Gallic 
pieces that have ever held the stage. It inaugu- 
rated a new order of comedy, and introduced into 
it a new character : the Barber, who was also wit, 
hero, and moralist — the character of Figaro. 

Beaumarchais was not at all the man to sit 
down and tranquilly enjoy his first dramatic 
triumph. He must not only follow it up by 
writing another, but he must with enormous 
difficulty, at the risk of much money, and three 
years' hard work, become the editor of the first 
complete edition of Voltaire's works ever given 
to the public. 

Then, too, he must prepare the reorganisa- 
tion of the ferme generate with the Minister, 


Vergennes. Actresses consulted him when they 
were out of an engagement, and dramatic authors 
when their liberties were endangered. The author 
of the Goezman Memoirs can surely help a poor 
simpleton engulfed in a lawsuit, and the friend 
of Duverney, the rich man who began the world 
in a tradesman's shop, may well assist a ruined 
speculator ! Inventors, impatient to air their dis- 
coveries, carried them to him who had brought 
his first legal action over a discovery of his 
own. Girls deceived by their lovers begged the 
assistance of the man who had held up Clavijo to 

One of the most fortunate characteristics 
Beaumarchais possessed was his power of suddenly 
changing his occupation, and one of his most 
extraordinary characteristics was his love of doing 
so. ' Shutting the drawer of an affair,' he himself 
called this faculty. He shut the drawer with a 
bang, and perfectly good-natured, self-conceited, 
and successful, turned from a secret agency in 
London to interfere with the marriage of the 
Prince of Nassau, and from the marriage to assist 
the Lieutenant of the Police in censuring the 
works of his brother-playwrights, and from that 
censorship to put into the mouth of Figaro such 
sentiments as, ' Printed follies are without im- 
portance except in those places where their 


circulation is forbidden . . . without the liberty 
to blame no praise can be flattering.' 

By 1778, 'The Marriage of Figaro' was 
finished; and in 1781 it was received by the 
Comedie Fran^aise. But it contained that which 
no censor — not even dull Louis — could pass. In 
1782, he read it, and flung it from him. 'This 
is detestable, this shall never be played ! ' 

But that prohibition was not enough for Beau- 
marchais. Forbidden fruit is ever the most tantalis- 
ing and delicious. Daintily tied with pink ribbons 
he sent a copy of the play to this salon ; and 
an-./ther to that. He announced a reading of it — 
and, coquettishly and without offering any reason, 
abandoned the reading at the last moment. In a 
little while he had raised aU Paris on the tip-toe of 
excitement. Not to have scanned at least a scene 
or two of ' The Marriage of Figaro ' was to confess 
oneself out of the fashion. Then the author read 
the whole of it to the Grand Duke of Eussia, and 
recited selections of it to the Comtesse de Lam- 
balle and to Marshal Kichelieu, 'before bishops 
and archbishops.' 

After all, Louis was very weak, and public 
opinion very strong. The First Gentleman of the 
Chamber permitted the thing to be rehearsed, more 
or less publicly, in the theatre of the Hotel des 
Menus Plaisirs. AU the world and his wife 


crowded thither. The Comte d'Artois was actually 
on his way when, with an awakening of his feeble 
obstinacy, the King sent a mandate forbidding the 
performance. Even Madame de Campan, kindly 
old sycophant of the Court, confessed that there 
were angry whispers of ' tyranny ' and ' oppres- 
sion,' and murmurs of ' an attack on liberty.' 
Beaumarchais, stung to the quick, swore that it 
should be played, ay, even if it was in the choir of 
Notre-Dame ! The pressure on Louis was great ; 
the Court was in want of a new sensation, and to 
be made to laugh at its own follies was a very 
new one indeed. 

In three months, the Comte de Vaudreuil, the 
leader of Marie Antoinette's societe intime of the 
Little Trianon, obtained the royal permission to 
have it acted in his house at Gennevilliers, by the 
company from the Comedie, before the Comte 
d'Artois and the Queen's bosom friend, the 
Duchesse de Polignac. The Queen herself in- 
tended to have been present, but was prevented 
by an indisposition. When the permission was 
accorded, Beaumarchais was in England. He 
hurried home, saw to the performance himself, 
and made his own conditions. 

On September 26, 1783, three hundred per- 
sons, the very flower of Court society, crowded 
into Vaudreuil's theatre, and would have died of 


suffocation if the resourceful Beaumarchais had 
not broken the panes of the windows with his 
cane. It was said he had made a hit in two 
senses. The aristocratic audience received his 
play with rapturous applause. He adroitly followed 
up his success by presenting his piece to a tribunal 
of censors who, for some unknown reason, 'felt 
sure it would be a failure,' and expressed them- 
selves satisfied with it after they had made a few 
insignificant omissions. Finally, a reluctant per- 
mission was wrung from the King, and on April 27, 
1784, seven months after the performance at 
GenneviUiers, ' The Marriage of Figaro ' was first 
publicly performed at the new Comedie Fran9aise, 
built on the site of the Hotel de Conde, and now 
known as the Odeon. 

The play was to begin at half-past five in the 
afternoon, but from early in the morning the doors 
were besieged by crowds, in which cordons Mens 
elbowed Savoyards, and the classes and the masses 
began their long struggle. In the press three 
persons were suffocated — 'one more than for 
Scudery,' said caustic La Harpe. Great ladies sat 
all day in the dressing rooms of the actresses to 
be sure of securing seats, and duchesses were 
delighted to obtain a footstool in the gallery, a 
part of the house to which, as a rule, ladies never 
went. The theatre was Ht by a new method. 


The famous Dazincourt played Figaro ; and Mol^, 
Almaviva. The author himself was in a private 
box between two abbes who had promised to ad- 
minister ' very spiritual succour ' in case of death. 
Then the curtain rose. 

' The " Marriage of Figaro," ' said Napoleon, 
' was the Eevolution already in action.' 

As in the ' Barber of Seville,' the atmosphere and 
the clothes are Spanish, the spirit and essence wholly 
French. The story of Figaro, the servant who 
outwits his lord and wins Suzanne, whom his master 
has tried to steal from him, forms a plot simple 
enough. Count Almaviva, the master, is certainly 
one of the best representations of the great noble of 
the old regime ever put on the stage. Continually 
worsted in argument by his valet, and perpetually 
in the most ridiculous situations, he never loses 
the dignity of good breeding — as Beaumarchais 
himself puts it, ' the corruption of his heart takes 
nothing from the hon ton of his manners.' Figaro 
is, of course, democracy with its wits awake at 
last, and stung to courage and action by centuries 
of wrongs. The Countess (the Eosina of the 
' Barber ') and Suzanne are the most charming and 
seductive reproductions of the eighteenth-century 
woman — ' spirituelles et rieuses,' coquettish, grace- 
ful and gay. The chief fault of the play is the 
episode of Marceline, in which the playgoer wearily 


recognises two, too familiar friends — the long-lost 
mother and the mislaid baby with the usual 
convenient birth-mark on the right arm. 

The morals of the piece are throughout the 
morals of the time — indelicacy, delicately ex- 
pressed. Figaro hardly ever says anything in- 
convenant, but intrigue is in the very air he 
breathes. ' The ripening fruit,' writes Saint- Amand, 
' hanging on the tree, never falls but seems always 
on the point of falling.' Virtue, of a kind, does 
triumph in the long run, but Beaumarchais knew 
his audience so well that up to the last moment 
he kept them fearing, or hoping, that it would not. 
If its unpleasant situations, and the character of 
the precocious page Cherubino (a particularly 
distasteful one to English ideas), gave spice to the 
wit in its own day, the modern reader can enjoy 
the sparkhng and rippling stream of mocking 
gaiety without stirring up the mud it hides. One 
situation leads to another with the most complete 
naturalness, and yet that other is always perfectly 
unexpected. Moralisings and soliloquies, which 
spell ruin in other plays, are in this one rich in 
briUiancy and aptness. Those who as yet know 
'The Marriage of Figaro' only by name, can 
purchase for a few pence one of the most ex- 
hilarating draughts of intellectual champagne ever 
given to the world. 


But it is not only as literature that the play- 
lives. It was the Eevolution already in action. 
There are hardly six consecutive lines which do 
not contain some indictment against the old order ; 
there is not an aphorism which does not push, 
with a laugh, some abuse down the abyss. ' There 
is one thing more amazing than my play,' said 
Beaumarchais, ' and that is its success.' He was 
right. One can but marvel still that the old order, 
so clearly hearing its sentence of death, took that 
sentence only as a stupendous joke, ' laughed its 
last laugh' over 'Figaro,' and applauded the war- 
rant for its own execution till its hands tingled 

The fine ladies heard their vapours defined as 
' the malady that prevails only in boudoirs ; ' and 
my lord, surrounded by sycophants, saw himself 
for a mocking second as other men see him, when 
Figaro says to Bazile : 'Are you a Prince to be 
flattered? Hear the truth, wretch, since you 
have not the money to pay a liar.' 

With what a roar of laughter that tribunal 
of censors who had licensed the play heard the 
words : ' Provided I do not mention in my writ- 
ings, authority, religion, poHtics, morahty, officials 
... or anyone who has a claim to anything, I 
can print everything freely under the inspection 
of two or three censors ; ' and with what amused 



self-complacency it listened to the axiom : ' Only 
little minds fear little writings.' 

The hereditary noble hstened to this : ' Nobility, 
money, rank, place, all that makes people so 
proud ! What have you done for so much good 
fortune? You have given yourself the trouble 
to be born ; ' and the bourgeois at his side, to 
whom merit had opened no path to glory, heard 
with a strange thrill Figaro continue, ' While for 
me, lost in a crowd of nobodies, I have had need 
of more knowledge and calculation simply to exist, 
than has been employed to govern all the Spains 
for a hundred years.' 

Did the Minister who had filled the snug 
posts in the Government with his own relations 
and friends see nothing but a joke in : ' They 
thought of me for a situation, but unluckily I was 
fit for it ; they wanted an accountant ; a dancer 
obtained the place'? 'Intelligence a help to 
advancement ? Your lordship is laughing at mine. 
Be commonplace and cringing, and you can get 
anywhere.' ' To succeed in life, le savoir-faire vaut 
mieux que le savoir' 

The ubiquitous Englishman of the audience 
heard Figaro announce ' Goddam ' to be ' the basis 
of the Enghsh language.' The political world 
listened to a scathing definition of diplomacy: 
' To pretend to be ignorant of what everyone else 


knows, and to know what everyone else does not 

know ... to seem deep when one is only empty 

and hollow ... to set spies and pension traitors 

... to break seals and intercept letters . . . 

there's diplomacy, or I'm a dead man.' 

The audience trooped out into the night — the 

performance lasted from half-past five till ten — 

with enthusiastic admiration on its lips and still 

ringing in its ears the seventh couplet of the 

vaudeville : 

Par le sort de la naissance, 
L'un est roi, Tautre est berger ; 
Le hasard fit leur distance ; 
L'esprit seul peut tout changer. 

The writer, certainly, had as little idea as his 
audience that his was to be the wit to change 
everything. From first to last, Beaumarchais was 
the man we have always with us, who means to 
advance in the world and let that world take care 
of itself; whose argument is that posterity having 
done nothing for him, he need do nothing for 
posterity; the true time-server, just audacious 
enough to say what less courageous people only 
dare to think, and earning thereby their gratitude 
and applause. Caron had reaped place and fortune 
from the old order, and was not at all minded to 
overthrow it. Tyranny for tyranny, he preferred 
the despotism of the King to the despotism of the 
mob. If he revenged himself in his play for the 

s 2 


slights and humiliations from which even his 
cleverness had not been able to save him — that was 
absolutely all. Overturn Throne and Church! 
Such a houleversement would very likely overturn 
Caron de Beaumarchais too, and was not to be 
thought of. 

Yet it was this man who gave light popular 
expression to the principles to which Voltaire 
and his friends devoted their lives, their ardour, 
and their genius. It was surely a cruelty of fate 
that the Master could not live to see 'Figaro.' 
Its author might miss its significance, but Voltaire 
— never. 

Beaumarchais, indeed, had merely caught the 
accent of his age, as a child catches the accent of 
its nurse, and ' wrote revolutionary literature, as 
M. Jourdain spoke prose, without knowing it.' In 
'The Marriage of Figaro' he said what all men 
were feeling, but not what he felt. He wished to 
be a successful playwright, and he was one ; but 
he did not mean to be one of the greatest and 
most inflijlential of Eevolutionists — and he was 
that too. 

of Figarc 

owed up the success of ' The Marriage 
' by generously founding a fashionable 
o be known later as the Benevolent 
Institution, and the King followed up 

the succps he had always disHked by punishing 



an imprudent letter Caron had written in a news- 
paper, and which had offended Monsieur, by 
writing on a playing card, as he sat at his game, 
an order for Beaumarchais' imprisonment. 

By one of those charming little surprises for 
which the old regime was so celebrated, Beau- 
marchais, of fifty-three, found himself locked up in 
St. Lazare, then a house of correction for juvenile 
offenders. At first Paris went into roars of 
laughter, and then she became very angry indeed. 
In a few days she obtained the release of her 
playwright ; and Louis, with the inconceivable in- 
consistency that distinguished his career, not only 
gave him enormous monetary compensation, but 
permitted as a further reparation, ' The Barber of 
Seville ' to be played at the Little Trianon. 

That representation marked the crowning 
point of Beaumarchais' success. Dazincourt 
trained the company of royal and noble amateurs. 
Marie Antoinette was rehearsing the part of 
Eosina with Madame de Campan when she first 
heard of the opening of a grimmer drama, the 
scandal of the Diamond Necklace. On August 15, 
1785, Cardinal de Kohan was arrested. On the 
19th, 'The Barber of Seville' was played in 
the theatre of the Little Trianon, with lucky 
Beaumarchais in the audience, the Queen as 
Eosina, the Comte de Vaudreuil as Almaviva, the 


Due de Guiche as Bartholo, and the Comte d'Artois 
as Figaro. 

The Queen was infinitely vivacious in her part. 
Did Bazile's terrible definition of Calumny dis- 
concert her ? 

' At first a mere breath, skimming the ground 
like a swallow, but sowing poison as it flies . . . 
it takes root, creeps up, makes its way, goes . . . 
from mouth to mouth : then, all of a sudden, one 
knows not how. Calumny is standing upright, 
rearing its head, hissing, swelling, growing visibly. 
It spreads its wings, takes flight, eddies round 
. . . bursts, thunders, crashes, and becomes, 
thanks to heaven, a general outcry, a public 
crescendo, a universal chorus of hatred and 
proscription. What devil could resist it ? ' 

If Queen or audience found in the words too 
awful an application and prophecy, history does 
not relate. 

How strange, with the knowledge of after 
events, sound in the mouth of d'Artois the words : 
'I am happy to be forgotten, being sure that a 
great man does enough good when he does no 
harm. As to the virtues one requires in a 
servant, does your Excellency know many masters 
who are worthy of being valets?' and, most 
strange of all, ' I hasten to laugh at everything, 
lest I should have to weep at everything,' 


The performance of the ' Barber ' at Trianon 
was the last flicker of the dying fire of royal 
pleasure. Beaumarchais' own light began to fail. 
He was shortly involved in a famous dispute with 
Mirabeau about the Paris Water Company, in 
which that great genius brought out his mighty 
guns of irony and invective and in one fierce blast 
blew, as it were, Beaumarchais' nimble-witted 
head from his shoulders. ' Figaro ' has dubbed 
my diatribes ' Mirabelles,' has he ? Well, he shall 
pun at my expense no more. AU Paris stood 
watching. Dazzling, burning, and terrible, Mira- 
beau's sun was rising above the horizon, and 
Beaumarchais' star was fading in the stormy sky. 
Then he had another lawsuit, in which he entered 
the lists as the champion of wronged beauty. 
His opponent was Bergasse, the young lawyer, 
who ' had his reputation to make ' at some one's 
expense, and made it at Beaumarchais'. 

In 1786, Caron married Mademoiselle Willer- 
maula, who had long been his mistress, and by 
whom he had a daughter, Eugenie. For them, he 
built a splendid house looking on to the Bastille, 
near the Porte Saint-Antoine, which became one 
of the sights of Paris. 

In 1787, he produced a very feeble opera, 
'Tarare,' which had a small temporary success. 

On July 14, 1789, the Bastille fell. Not 


only the fine house was in danger, but its fine 
owner as well. He had written 'Figaro'? Yes. 
But he had been the courtier and the secret agent 
of kings. His pluck and energy did not in the 
least desert him. In the midst of the uproar he 
was writing a new play, ' The Guilty Mother.' 

La Harpe (no wonder his friends called him 
La Harpie) declared it was ' downright silly ; ' 
and perhaps this thorough-going verdict is but 
little too severe. ' The Guilty Mother ' forms a 
sort of third volume to the ' Barber ' and ' Figaro,' 
and falls as fiat as most sequels. The same cha- 
racters appear, grown old. The Guilty Mother 
is the Eosina of the ' Barber ' and the Countess 
Almaviva of ' Figaro ; ' while Cherubino has 
grown up into the very objectionable young man 
such a boy would grow into. Beaumarchais had 
built a theatre — the Theatre du Marais — near 
his house, in which he proposed his new piece 
should appear. 

On June 6, 1792, the day before it was to be 
produced, its author was denounced before the 
National Assembly by Chabot. He had indeed, 
with a view to making at once a coup for his 
country and for himself, and though he was now 
sixty years old and getting deaf, undertaken to 
bring into France sixty thousand guns — ' to mas- 
sacre patriots,' shouted unreasonable patriotism. 


On August 10 his house was searched; on 
August 23 he was taken to the Abbaye prison, 
and on August 30 he was freed by Manuel (his 
brother litterateur, as well as Procurator of the 
Commune), just two days before the September 
massacres. After all, his star had not yet declined. 

After hiding in barns and roaming 'over 
harrowed fields, panting for his life,' he escaped 
to England, where very luckily for himself a 
London merchant, to whom he was in debt, pre- 
vented his returning to Paris and the guillotine 
by shutting him up in the King's Bench Prison. 
In March, 1793, he did return, ' to offer my head 
to the sword of justice, if I cannot prove I am 
a good citizen.' That he did not thus pay for 
his imprudence proves that there was as much in 
that head as had ever come out of it. 

Three months later, Beaumarchais was sent as 
the emissary of the Eevolutionary Government to 
fetch those sixty thousand guns which had been 
left in Holland. He had many highly dramatic 
escapes and adventures ; and, being whoUy modern 
in his belief in self-advertisement, he once more 
made the most of them. In his absence the 
Government which had sent him, by one of those 
little mistakes which make its history so vivacious, 
declared him an emigre! 

During the Terror he was at Hamburg, in 


direst poverty and in mortal anxiety as to the fate 
of his wife, his daughter, and his sister Julie. 
They escaped with their lives ; but when Beau- 
marchais was at last taken off the list of emigres 
and returned to Paris in 1796, he found house and 
fortune alike in ruins, his door besieged by 
creditors, and his famous garden a wilderness. 

He was sixty-four years old and had already 
done more in his life than a hundred ordinary 
men compress into a hundred ordinary careers. 
And now he must start afresh ! 

He saw his daughter married ; revived his old 
social tastes, produced ' The Guilty Mother,' and 
took the keenest interest, both in prose and verse, 
in that young Lieutenant of Artillery, Kapoleon 
Bonaparte. He also published two very anti- 
Christian letters in praise of Voltaire. The 
watchmaker's son, who had charmed Mesdames 
at Versailles, was to the end witty, gay, bold, and 

On the morning of May 18, 1799, his friends 
found him dead of apoplexy. To die in his bed 
at last was surely not the least of his clevernesses. 

Caron de Beaumarchais was not a very unusual 
type of character or even of intellect ; but in the 
use he made of his brains, of his qualities and of 
his circumstances, he was a man in a million. 
His marvellous enterprise and industry enabled 


him to build more than one successful career 
on very ordinary foundations. His luck, that 
astonishing luck which followed him from the 
cradle to the grave, seems to have prevented such 
dangerous qualities as his conceit, his pugnacious- 
ness, and his love of intrigue and speculation, from 
bringing their usual fatal results. Such gifts as a 
handsome face, a fine figure, a ' parvenu grandeur 
of manner ' and real kindness and generosity, he 
used to their utmost advantage. For himself and 
his contemporaries he was a brilliantly successful 

For posterity, he is the man who, with a single 
thrust, pushed open that door, which by long 
labour and bitter sacrifice Voltaire and the En- 
cyclopaedists had unbarred, upon the great 
Eevolution and the Day. 




Voltaire was the son of a lawyer, and Diderot the 
son of a cutler ; d'Alembert was a no-man's child 
educated in a tradesman's family ; Grimm and 
Galiani were foreigners in the country to which 
they gave their talents. Of all Voltaire's fellow- 
ship only Vauvenargues and Condorcet came from 
the order their work was pledged not to benefit but 
to destroy. Condorcet alone lived to experience 
the extreme consequences of his principles, and 
paid for them by imprisonment and death. The 
Aristocrat who lost his life through the People to 
whom he had devoted it — this was Jean Antoine 
Nicolas de Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet. 

Born in 1743, at Eibemont, a town in Picardy, 
Condorcet belonged to a noble family highly con- 
nected both with the Church and the Army. 

His father was a captain of cavalry and designed 
his son for the same aristocratic post. But he 
died when the child was four; and a devout 
mother vowed him to the Virgin and au blanCy 

From an Engraving by Lemort, after the Bust by St. Aubin. 

>. OF 


dressed him in white frocks like a little girl, so 
that the luckless Caritat could neither run nor 
jump as nature bade him, and owed to his mother's 
piety a weakness in his limbs from which he never 

His first schoolmasters were the Jesuits. 
What is one to make of the fact that they had 
as virgin soil the intellects of at least four of 
their mightiest and fiercest opponents — Voltaire, 
Diderot, Turgot, and Condorcet ? 

At eleven, Caritat was under their supervision, 
with his home influence pressing him to their way 
of thought, with an uncle a bishop, and Cardinal 
de Bernis a relative. At thirteen, he was sent to 
Eheims, to be more completely under their control. 
At fifteen, he came up to Paris, and began at the 
College of Navarre to study mathematics and to 
think for himself; and when once a mind has 
begun to do that, nothing can stop it. 

His treatment of a particularly difficult theme 
brought him the acquaintance of d'Alembert, who 
first saw in the boy, who was to be to him as a 
son, a kindred genius, a future colleague at the 
Academy. Caritat was only seventeen when he in- 
troduced himself to his other great friend, Turgot, 
writing him a ' Letter on Justice and Virtue ' 
which already proclaimed this college student a 
thinker of a high order. An ' Essay on the Integral 


Calculus,' which he presented at the Academy of 
Sciences when he was twenty-two, attracted to him 
the flattering notice of the famous mathematician, 
Lagrange. There was in it not only the ardour 
of youth and a buoyant fecundity of idea, but a 
profundity of learning not at all youthful. 

Caritat was now no longer a student, but still 
lodging in Paris. In 1769, when he was twenty- 
six, he entered the Academy of Sciences in 
opposition to the wishes of all his relatives, who 
never pardoned him, he said, for not becoming 
a captain of cavalry. 

The man who ought, by the solemn unwritten 
laws of the family compact, to have been a heavy 
dragoon, was soon acknowledged as one of the 
finest original thinkers of his age, the friend of 
d'Alembert and of Voltaire, and something yet 
greater than a thinker — greater than any great 
man's friend — a practical reformer and a generous 
lover of human-kind. 

The character of Condorcet — he who with 
Turgot has been said to have been ' the highest 
intellectual and moral personality of his century ' 
— has in it much not only infinitely good, but also 
infinitely attractive. Perfectly simple and modest, 
somewhat shy in the social world which he himself 
defined as 'dissipation without pleasure, vanity 
without motive, and idleness without rest,' among 


his intimates no one could have been more gay, 
witty, and natural. Though his acquaintances 
might find him cold, his friends knew well what a 
tender and generous soul shone in the thoughtful 
eyes. If he listened to a tale of sorrow coldly and 
critically almost, while others were commiserating 
the unfortunate, Condorcet was remedying the mis- 
fortune. Though he never could profess affection, 
he knew better than any man how to prove it ; 
and if all his principles were stern, all his deeds 
were gentle. So quiet in his tastes that he had 
no use for riches, wholly without the arrogance 
and the blindness which distinguished his class, 
he had its every merit and not one of its faults ; 
and he well deserved the title Voltaire gave him 
— ' The man of the old chivalry and the old 

In 1770, when he was twenty-seven, he went 
with d'Alembert to stay at Ferney. Voltaire was 
delighted with him. Here was a man after his 
own heart, with his own hatred of oppression 
and fanaticism and his own zeal for humanity, 
with better chances of serving it ! The Patriarch 
did not add, as he might have added, that 
this young Condorcet had a thousand virtues 
a Voltaire could never compass — that he was 
pure in Hfe and hated a lie ; that he was wholly 
without jealousy, without vanity, and without 


meanness. Caritat soon worshipped at the feet of 
a master of whom his friendship with d'Alembert 
had already proclaimed him a pupil, while Voltaire 
enlisted his guest's quiet, practical help for the 
rehabilitation of the Chevalier de la Barre, for 
the revision of the process of d'Etallonde; and 
honoured him by becoming his editor and assist- 
ant in the critical ' Commentary on Pascal ' which 
Condorcet produced later. 

Because his humility was the humility of a just 
mind and his modesty of the kind that scorns to 
cringe, Condorcet's admiration for his host did not 
blind him to his literary faults or make him meanly 
spare them ; and while it was Condorcet who 
spoke in warm eulogy of his ' dear and illustrious 
chief as working not for his glory but for his 
cause, it was also Condorcet who deprecated that 
production of Voltaire's senility, ' Irene.' Some- 
times the three friends would talk over the future 
of France — the two older men who had done 
much to mould that future and the young man 
who had much to do. ' You will see great days,' 
old Voltaire wrote afterwards to his guest ; ' you 
will make them.' 

The visit lasted a fortnight, and was a liberal 
education indeed. 

Three years later, in 1773, Condorcet received 
the crown of his success as a mathematician and 


was made Perpetual Secretary of the Academy of 
Sciences, where he wrote eloges of the savants 
who had belonged to it, with the noble motto for 
ever in his mind, 'One owes to the dead only 
what is useful to the living — justice and truth.' 

So far, Condorcet had been a mathematician 
alone. Knowledge might free and redeem the world 
— in time ; but the time was long. Beneath that 
quiet exterior, palpitating through his leisurely, 
exact studies at the College of Navarre and the 
Scientific Academy, there throbbed in this man's 
breast a vaster and fiercer passion than any passion 
for learning — the passion for human-kind. Where 
did young Condorcet come by that ruling idea of 
his that opened to him a field of labour which he 
must till all his days, unremittingly, before the 
night Cometh when no man can work — that idea 
which should steel him to endure, exulting, the 
cruellest torments of life and death — ' the infinite 
perfectibility of human nature, the infinite aug- 
mentation of human happiness ' ? 

The friend of d'Alembert was Condorcet, the 
geometrician ; the friend of Turgot was Condorcet, 
the reformer. 

In August, 1774, Turgot was made Controller- 
General. He appointed Condorcet his Inspector 
of Coinage at a salary of 240Z. a year, a payment 
which Condorcet never accepted. 



Tlie pair had work to do, which only they 
could do, and do together. The vexed subject 
of Trade in Grain — ' for a moment,' says Eobinet, 
' the whole question of the Eevolution lay in this 
question of Grain ' — incited them to fierce battle 
for what they took to be the cause of freedom 
against the cause of that well-meaning common- 
place, Necker. Condorcet attacked Necker with 
a rare, fierce malignity, and wrote two sting- 
ing pamphlets on the subject which made him 
many enemies. 

But there were other reforms waiting the 
doing, less in importance then and greater in 
importance now. To curtail the advantages of 
the privileged classes, to open for commerce the 
rivers of central France, to abolish the slave trade, 
Taille and Corvee^ Vingtieme and Gabelle, and to 
make the nobility share in the taxation — these 
were the tasks into which this noble put his life 
and his soul. That every reform meant loss to 
himself, that all his interests were vested in the 
privileges he sought to destroy, that every human 
tie drew him towards the old order, makes his 
work for the new, more excellent than that of 
his fellow-workers. They had nothing to gain ; 
Condorcet had everything to lose. 

In May, 1776, a Queen of one-and-twenty 
demanded that ' le sieur Turgot fiit chass^, m^me 


envoye k la Bastille ' ; and, in part, she had her 
way, for her own ruin and that of France. Con- 
dorcet renounced his Inspectorship of Coinage ; he 
would not serve ■ under another master. Turgot's 
death in 1781 was the first great sorrow of his 
life. His other friend, d'Alembert, won for him a 
seat in the French Academy in 1782 ; and in the 
next year he too died. Condorcet tended him to 
the last, with that quiet and generous devotion 
which says little and does much. D'Alembert 
left to him the task of providing annuities for two 
old servants, and Condorcet accepted the obhgation 
as a privilege, and fulfilled it scrupulously in his 
own poverty and ruin. 

He was now not a little lonely. His relatives 
still resented his choice of a profession ; his best 
friends were dead ; the great Master of their party 
had preceded them. From ' social duties falsely 
so called ' Caritat had long ago freed himself. He 
was three and forty years old, occupied in writing 
that ' Life of Turgot ' which is a declaration of his 
own principles and policy, in contributing to the 
Encyclopasdia, and in many public labours, when 
he first met Mademoiselle Sophie de Grouchy. 

If the supreme blessing of life be a happy 
marriage, then Condorcet was a fortunate man 
indeed. Mademoiselle was full twenty years 
younger than himself, very girfish in face and 

T 2 


figure, with a bright cultivated mind, and a rare 
capacity for love and tenderness. He found in her 
what is uncommon even in happy marriages per- 
haps — his wife was also his friend. From the first 
she shared his work and his love for his fellow-men, 
approved of his sacrifices, and was true not only 
to him, but to his example of unselfish courage 
and unflinching devotion, to the end of her life. 

For the moment — for what a brief moment ! 
^— their world looked smiling enough. 

Condorcet abandoned himself to his happiness, 
with the deep passion of a strong man who has 
never wasted his heart in lighter feelings. For 
a dowry — so essential to a French marriage — he 
wholly forgot to stipulate. For the opinion of his 
friends, who considered a married geometrician as 
a sort of freak of Nature, he cared nothing ; and 
when they saw his wife, and forgave him, their 
pardon was as little to him as their blame. 

The two settled on the Quai de Conti in a 
house where Caritat had previously lived with his 
mother. At that Hotel des Monnaies Sophie held 
her salon {le foyer de la Republique, men called it), 
where she received, with a youthful charm and 
grace, not only her husband's French political 
friends, but also Lord Stormont the English 
Ambassador, Wilkes, Garrick, Sterne, Hume, 
Eobertson, Gibbon, Mackintosh, and Adam Smith. 


Large and shy, with a little awkwardness even 
in his manner, it was not Condorcet but his wife 
who was socially successful. She was the one 
woman in a thousand who estimated social success 
at its low, just value, and was great in knowing 
her husband to be much greater. 

Only two years after their marriage, in 1788, 
Condorcet entered the arena as one of the earliest 
and most noteworthy of all champions of Women's 
Eights. On the ground of their equal intelligence 
he claimed for them equal privileges with men, and 
ignored the very suggestion that their bodily weak- 
ness and inferiority are reproduced in their minds. 
He judged, in fact, all women from one woman. 
No nobler testimony can be borne to the intellect 
and character of the Marquise de Condorcet than 
to say that she deserved as an individual what her 
example made her husband think of her sex. 

It is not a little curious to note that Condorcet, 
though so wholly faithful and happy himself in 
the relationship, thought the indissolubility of 
marriage an evil. In later years, he pleaded 
warmly for the condemnation of mercenary 
marriages by public opinion, as one of the best 
means of lessening the inequalities of wealth. 

In 1790, the profound happiness of his wedded 
life was crowned by the birth of his only child, 
a daughter. Before that, the fierce whirlpool of 


politics had drawn him into it, and he had 
addressed the electors of the States-General and 
appeared publicly as the enemy of sacerdotahsm 
and aristocracy, with all his gospel based on two 
great principles — the natural rights of man and 
the mutable nature of the constitutions which 
govern him. He was made member of the muni- 
cipality of Paris, and in that, his first public 
function, flung the gauntlet before his caste and 
broke for ever with an order of which the smug 
selfishness was admirably typified by a Farmer- 
General who said to him, 'Why alter things? 
We are very comfortable.' 

The fall of the Bastille, the insurrection of 
October, the journey of the Eoyal Family to Paris, 
he had watched with the calm of one who knows 
that such things must needs be, who realises the 
necessity of painful means to a glorious end. To 
the monarchy he was not at first opposed. If the 
King were but a man ! But when in June, 1791, 
came the ignominious flight to Varennes, Con- 
dorcet rose in a fierce, still wrath and proclaimed 
the necessity for a EepubHc. ' The King has freed 
himself from us, we are freed from him,' said he. 
' This flight enfranchises us from all our obligations.' 

Nearly all the Marquis's friends broke with him, 
and he stood alone. Before his ripened views on 
royalty were fully known, it had been proposed 


that he should be the tutor of the Dauphin, and to 
Sophie that she should be the gouvernante. Hus- 
band and wife were in different places when the 
proposals were made ; but, though they had never 
spoken with each other on the subject, they 
declined the offers almost in the same words. If 
Condorcet's friends misunderstood him and parted 
at the parting of the ways, his wife never did. 

In 1791, he was elected member for Paris in 
the Legislative Assembly and became in quick 
succession its Secretary and its President. As 
its President, he presented to it his Educational 
Scheme, startlingly modern in its demands that 
education should be free and unsectarian. 

By the. order of the Assembly, in 1792, there 
was burnt in Paris an immense number of the 
brevets and patents of nobility — among them the 
patent of Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat, Marquis 
de Condorcet — at the very moment when at the 
bar of the tribune Condorcet himself demanded 
that the same measure should be adopted all over 
France. Not one dissentient voice was raised 
against the scheme; who, indeed, should dissent 
from it when a marquis proposed it ? A few 
months later he was elected Member of the 
National Convention for the Department of Aisne, 
and the extremist of the Legislative Assembly 
found himself all too moderate for the Convention. 


Then came the trial of the King. 

There was never a time when Condorcet could 
be called either an orator or a leader of men. 
Though he had written most of its official addresses, 
he had appeared but little before the Legislative 
Assembly. Nervousness caused him always to 
read any speeches he did make, and a delicate 
voice robbed them of their effectiveness. His 
deeds and his character earned him a hearing and 
applause ; and sometimes his complete self-devotion 
and the white heat of his enthusiasm discounted 
his manner and touched his hearers with some- 
thing of his own deathless passion. But he was, 
as d'Alembert said, a volcano covered with snow, 
and that audience of his, coarse in fibre, mad for 
excitement, overwrought, uncontrolled, must needs 
see the mountain in flames, vomiting lava and 

To be a great orator one must have in a 
supreme degree the qualities one's hearers have in 
a lesser degree. The thoughtful reason and the 
lofty ideals of Condorcet found little counterpart 
in the parliaments of the Eevolution. A Marat 
or a Danton for us ! Or a Fouquier-Tinville even, 
drunk with blood, with his wild hair flung back, 
and his words shaking with passion ; but not this 
noble, with the high courage of his caste, his 
' stoical Eoman face,' his stern truthfulness, his 


unworldly enthusiasms. Worse than all, Con- 
dorcet never was for a cause, but always for a 
principle ; and since he followed no party blindly, 
he was in turn abused by all. 

He proved in his own history that to be a great 
demagogue it is essential to be without too fine a 
scrupulousness and the more delicate virtues ; that 
successfully to lead the vulgar the first requisite is 
not to be too much of a gentleman. 

Condorcet, although he had broken with 
monarchy as a possible form of government for 
France, had still no personal feeling against the 
monarch. Firmly convinced of his culpability, he 
was equally convinced that the Convention was 
not legally competent to judge its King at all ; 
and proposed that he should be tried by a tribunal 
chosen by the electors of the Departments of 
France. But to take the judging of its sovereign 
from the Convention was to take the prey whose 
blood he has tasted from the tiger. When the 
great moment came, Condorcet was at Auteuil ; 
he hastened to Paris, and arrived at the Assembly 
a few moments before the King. 

What a strange contrast was this Marquis — 
serene in strong purpose, with his 'just mind justly 
fixed,' great in his compassion for his country and 
not without compassion for his King — to that poor 
Bourbon, ' who means well had he any fixed 


meaning/ and whom Condorcet himself described 
in an admirable but rarely quoted description as 
standing before his judges, ' uneasy, rather than 
frightened ; courageous, but without dignity.' 

On January 15, 1793, to the momentous 
question if the prisoner at the bar were guilty, 
Condorcet answered. ' Yes : ' he had conspired 
against liberty. On the 17th and 18th the vote 
was taken on the nature of the punishment to be 
awarded. Consider the judgment-hall filled with 
the fierce faces and wild natures of men who, for 
centuries starved of their liberties, had drunk the 
first maddening draught of power. Consider that 
among them this noble alone represented a class 
they hated worse than they hated royalty itself, 
that if he had forsworn it, broken with it, denied 
it, he had still its high bearing, its maddening self- 
possession and self-control. We vote for death — 
shall you dare to know better ? An Orleans sitteth 
and speaketh against his own kin ; why not a 
noble, then, who owes him nothing ? Condorcet 
rises in his place and pronounces for exile — the 
severest penalty in the penal code which is not 
death. ' The punishment of death is against my 
principles, and I shall not vote for it. I propose 
further that the decision of the Convention shall 
be ratified by an appeal to the people.' 

On Saturday, January 19, 1793, the execution 


of the King having been fixed for the Monday, 
Condorcet implored his colleagues to neutralise 
the fatal eiSect of their decision on the other 
European Powers by abolishing the punishment of 
death altogether. With the Terror then struggling 
to the birth in her wild breast, one of the greatest 
children of his country begged for the suppression 
of that penalty as the most ' eflScacious way of per- 
fecting human-kind in destroying that leaning to 
ferocity which has long dishonoured it. Punish- 
ments which admit of correction and repentance 
are the only ones fit for regenerated humanity.' 

In the roar of that fierce storm of human 
passions, the quiet voice was unheeded, but not 
unheard. There were those who looked up at the 
speaker, and remembered his words — for his ruin. 

How far, up to this point, Condorcet realised 
his danger is hard to say. A Louis, with the fatal 
blindness of kingship, might believe to the last 
that his person really was inviolable, that from 
the tumbril itself loyal hands would deliver his 
majesty from the insult of a malefactor's death. 
But a Condorcet ? 

The immediate result of his part in the King's 
trial was that his name was struck from the roll of 
the Academies of St. Petersburg and Berlin. That 
insult touched him so little that there is not a 
single allusion to it in his writings. 


In the month succeeding the King's death, a 
Commission of nine members of the Convention, 
of whom Condorcet was one, laid before it their 
project for the New Constitution of the Year II., 
to which Condorcet had written an elaborate Pre- 
face. The project was not taken. Herault de 
S^chelles made a new one. In his bold and scath- 
ing criticism upon it — his ' Appeal to the French 
Citizens on the Project of the New Constitution ' — 
Condorcet signed his own condemnation. 

On July 8, 1793, Chabot denounced that ' Appeal ' 
at the Convention. This ex-Marquis, he said, is 
' a coward, a scoundrel, and an Academician.' ' He 
pretends that his Constitution is better than yours ; 
that primary assemblies ought to be accepted; 
therefore I propose that he ought to be arrested 
and brought to the bar.' On the strength of this 
logical reasoning and without evidence of any 
kind against him, the Convention decreed that 
Condorcet's papers should be sealed and that he 
should be put under arrest and on the list of those 
who were to be tried before the Eevolutionary 
Tribunal on the coming third of October. He 
was further condemned in his absence and declared 
to be liors la loi. 

If it is doubtful whether Condorcet realised 
the probable effect of his opinion and vote in the 
matter of the King's trial, he had reahsed to the 


full the jeopardy in which the ' Appeal ' would 
place him. But he looked now, as he had looked 
always, not to the effect his deeds might have on 
his own destiny, but to their effect on the destiny 
of the race. If the unit could but do his part for 
the mass, then, having done it, he must be content 
to be trampled under its feet, happy, if on his 
dead body some might rise and catch a glimpse 
of a Promised Land. 

But yet he must save himself if he could. 

For seven years, through storms of which the 
story still shakes men's souls, he had known in his 
own home, first on the Quai de Conti and then in 
the Eue de Lille, the deep, calm joys of his happy 
marriage. When the troubles of life come only 
from without, through the fiercest of such troubles 
man and wife may be happy still. It is those evils 
alone which rise from their own characters which 
can wholly destroy the beauty of life. In the 
serene tenderness of the woman who kept for ever, 
it is said, some of the virgin freshness of the girl, 
who united to strength gentleness, and to courage 
quietness, who was at once modest and clever, 
simple and intelligent, Condorcet was given a rich 
share of the best earth has to offer. 

Their salon, of course, was no more. The 
beating of the pitiless storm had driven their 
Englishmen to covert in happier England. But 


it is only when one is discontented with one's rela- 
tives that there is crying need of acquaintances. 
These two still had each other and their child. 
Condorcet had much to lose. 

To go to the Eue de Lille would be courting 
death. He escaped first to his country home at 
Auteuil. From there, two friendly doctors took 
him to a house in the Eue Servandoni, belonging 
to Madame Yernet, the widow of the sculptor, and 
asked her to shelter a proscribed man. She only 
inquired if he was good and virtuous. When 
they answered, 'Yes,' she consented at once. 'Do 
not lose a moment, you can tell me about him 
later.' Eegarding the value of the works of her 
husband there have been many opinions, but as to 
the value of her work there can be only one. 
Perfectly aware that she was endangering her 
life for a fugitive whom she had never seen, 
and who had not the slightest claim upon her 
generosity, she sheltered him for nine months, 
providing him all the time with every necessary of 
life and without the smallest hope of repayment. 
When he did leave her at last, he had to steal 
away from her self-sacrificing care by a subter- 
fuge, like a thief. Strong, simple and energetic, 
high in courage and devotion, Madame Yernet is 
one of the unsung heroines of history. 

Condorcet's condition was destitute indeed 


As an outkw all his money had been seized. For 
himself that might have been bearable ; even to 
the fate he foresaw too clearly he could be in- 
different — for himself. One Sarret, to whom 
Madame Vernet was privately married and who 
lived in the house, speaks of the fugitive's gentle- 
ness, patience, and resignation. He had given to 
his country his talents, his time, his fortune, his 
rank ; and when she turned and rent him, he had 
for her nothing but compassion and the strong 
hope of a day that would dawn upon her clear 
and fair, after the storm was past. 

But in the knowledge that he had brought 
ruin and disgrace on what he loved best in the 
world, Condorcet sounded one of the great deeps 
of human suffering. As the wife of an outlaw, 
Madame de Condorcet was not only penniless, 
but could not even sleep in the capital. Wholly 
dependent on her was her little girl of three 
years old, a young sister, and an old governess. 
She was herself still young and brought up in 
a class unused to work, in the sense of work to 
make money, for generations. But there was 
in her soul the great courage of a great love. 
The talents which had once charmed her salon 
she now turned to a means of livelihood. When 
her house at Auteuil was invaded by Kepublican 
soldiers, Madame softened their hearts and earned 


a pittance by taking their portraits. Twice 
a week, disguised as a peasant, she came on 
foot from Auteuil to Paris, passed through the 
gates with the fierce crowds thronging to the 
executions in the Place de la Eevolution, and by 
painting miniatures of the condemned in the 
prisons, of proscribed men lying hidden in strange 
retreats, or of middle-class citizens, made enough 
to support her little household. Then, sometimes, 
she would creep to the Eue Servandoni, and for a 
few minutes forget parting, death, and the terrors 
of the unknown future, in her husband's arms. He 
might well write, as he did write but a little while 
before he died, that even then he was not all 
unhappy — he had served his country and had had 
her heart. 

He spent the long days of his hiding almost 
entirely in writing. He began by an exposition 
of his principles and conduct during the Revolu- 
tion, and gave an account of his whole public 
career. He was writing it when, on October 3, 
1793, he was tried, in his absence, before the 
Eevolutionary Tribunal, with Vergniaud, Brissot, 
and others, accused of conspiring against the 
unity of the Eepublic, declared an emigrant, and 
condemned to death. 

On the 31st of the same month came the fall 
of the Girondins. Though not himself a Girondin 


they had been once his friends, and in their ruin 
he saw the immediate presage of his own ; and his 
own meant that also of Madame Vernet. He went 
to her at once. ' The law is clear ; if I am dis- 
covered here you will die as I shall. I am hors la 
hi ; I cannot remain here longer.' She answered 
that though he might be hors la hi he was not 
outside the law of humanity ; and bade him stay 
where he was. 

His wife, in her peasant's dress, came to him 
then for one of those brief moments, stolen from 
Heaven. She knew him well. That ' Justification ' 
of his conduct, his Apologia, that looking back on 
deeds and sacrifices meant to bring the Golden 
Age to men and which had brought, or so it 
seemed, the hell of the Terror — this was no fit 
work for him now. Look ahead! Look on to 
that new country which your pure patriotism and 
your self-devotion, — ay, and this Terror itself — 
shall have helped to make — that warless world of 
equal rights and ever widening knowledge, the 
beautiful dream of a sinless and sorrowless earth, 
which may yet be realised, in part. 

On the manuscript of the ' Justification ' there 
is written in her hand ' Left at my request to write 
the History of the Progress of the Human Mind' 

In the very shadow of death, Condorcet told 
the story of men's advance toward life, of the 



evolution of their understanding from the earliest 
times until now. Calm, just, and serene, with not 
an intemperate line, not an angry thought, the 
' Progress ' reads as if it had been written by some 
tranquil philosopher who had seen his plan for 
man's redemption adopted, and had received for his 
labour honours, peace, and competence. Its fault, 
indeed, is its too sanguine idealism. Condorcet, 
like many enthusiasts, thought his own way of 
salvation for man the only way ; he believed his 
own magnificent dream to be the only possible 

Beneath the guillotine and in social convul- 
sions for which history has no parallel, he looked 
through and past them, in that last great chapter, 
in the exalted spirit of noble prophecy, to that 
Golden Age which must surely come ! 

But 'The Progress of the Human Mind' is 
something more than a splendid hope, more than 
the greatest and most famous of its author's works. . 
It bears highest testimony to the character of 
him who in the supreme hour of his individual 
life could thus forget himself, and in the midst 
of personal ruin, foresee with exultant joy the 
salvation of the race. 

It remains for ever among the masterpieces 
which men cannot afford to forget. 

During his hiding Condorcet also wrote ' The 


Letter of Junius to William Pitt' in which he 
expresses his aversion to Pitt, and an essay, never 
printed, 'On the Physical Degradation of the 
Eoyal Kaces.' He also planned a universal philo- 
sophical language. 

In December, 1793, he wrote ' The Letter of a 
Polish Exile in Siberia to his Wife ' — a poem in 
which another exile bade farewell to the woman 
he loved. 

The death-shadows were creeping closer now. 

In March, 1794, he finished ' The Progress of 
the Human Mind.' But before that he had 
decided to leave Madame Vernet ; her danger 
was too great. Early in January he had begun 
writing his last wishes, the 'Advice of a Pro- 
scribed Father to his Daughter.' The little girl 
was the child of too deep a love not to be in- 
finitely dear. To what was he leaving her? 
Throughout these cruel months, the last drop in 
his cup of bitterness had been the strong con- 
viction that his wife would share his own fate, 
was doomed, like himself, to the guillotine. ' If 
my daughter is destined to lose everything,' — even 
to himself he could not frame the dread thought 
in plainer words. But if even that thing must be, 
then he left Madame Vernet the guardian of his 
child, begging that she might have a liberal 
education which would help her to earn her own 

u 2 


livelihood, and, in particular, that she might learn 
English, so that if need came she could seek the 
help of her mother's English friends. 

To the little girl herself he left words of calm 
and beautiful counsel, which are in themselves a 
possession. Some of that 'light that never was 
on sea or land' lies surely on those tender and 
gracious lines, something of the serene illumination 
that shines from a dying face. 

In the early morning of April 5, 1794, the 
Marquis de Condorcet laid down his pen for the 
last time. 

At ten o'clock on that day he slipped out of 
the house in the Eue Servandoni, unknown to 
Madame Vernet, and in spite of the passionate 
protests of Sarret, her husband, who followed him 
out into the street, praying him to return. Con- 
dorcet was in his usual disguise ; many months' 
confinement indoors, and the old weakness in 
his limbs, made walking a difficulty. He was 
at the door almost of the fatal prisons of the 
Carmes and the Luxembourg ; but no persuasions 
could make him return. He had heard rumours 
of a domiciliary visit to be made immediately to 
Madame Vernet's house and, were he found there, 
she must be ruined. Sarret implored in vain. 
The fugitive reached the Maine barrier in safety 
and turned in the direction of Fontenay-aux-Eoses. 


At every step his pain and difficulty in walking 
increased. But at three o'clock in the afternoon 
he safely reached the country house of his old 
friends, the Suards. 

Madame Suard may be remembered as the 
very enthusiastic and vivacious little lady who once 
visited Voltaire, who has left behind her enter- 
taining ' Letters,' and who has recorded Voltaire's 
warm love and admiration for her friend Condorcet. 
'Our dear and good Condorcet,' Madame Suard 
had called him. She and her husband (who was 
a well-known journalist and wit) had been his 
intimate friends in prosperity; how could he do 
better than come to them in his need ? 

It must in justice be said of the Suards that 
the accounts of their conduct are confused. But 
the generally accepted, as well as the most pro- 
bable, story does not redound to their credit. 
True, they had many excuses ; but there has never 
been any act of treachery for which the treacherous 
have not been able to adduce a plausible reason. 

Condorcet asked for one night's lodging, and 
M. Suard replied that such hospitality would be 
quite as dangerous for Condorcet himself as for 
them. Still, they could give him money, some 
ointment for a chafed leg due to his long walk, 
and a copy of Horace — to amuse his leisure ! 
Further, we will not lock our garden-gate to-night 


so that in case of urgent need you can make use 
of it ! With this, they sent him away. 

Madame Vernet, searching for him in that 
neighbourhood a little while after, declared that 
she tried the garden-gate and found it rusty and 
immovable. Her own door, in lawless Paris, was 
open night and day that, if he should return 
to her, she should not fail him. Whether he 
attempted to make use of the Suards' timid 
hospitality is not known. One would think of 
Condorcet that he did not. 

The day of April 6 he spent in sufferings and 
privations which can only be guessed. 

On April 7, a tall man, gaunt and famished, 
with a wound in his leg, went into an inn of 
Clamart and asked for an omelette. Mine host, 
looking at him suspiciously, inquired how many 
eggs he would have in his omelette. The Marquis, 
with no kind of idea of the number of eggs a 
working-man, or any man for that matter, expects 
in his omelette, said a dozen. M. Crepinet, the 
innkeeper, was a shrewd person as well as one 
of the municipals of the Commune. A queer 
workman this ! Your name ? Peter Simon, was 
the answer. Papers ? I have none. Occupation ? 
Well, on the spur of the moment, a carpenter. 
His hands, whose only tool had been a pen, gave 
him the lie. Crepinet, pleased with his own 


sharpness, had this strange carpenter arrested and 
marched toward Bourg-la-Eeine. 

How in these supreme moments Condorcet felt 
and acted, is not on record. But in the great 
crises men unconsciously produce that character 
which they have formed in the trivial round of 
daily life, and he who would be great at great 
moments must be a great character by his own 
fireside and in the dull routine of his ordinary 
work. The strong, quiet Condorcet was surely 
strong and quiet still — ' the victim of his foes,' as 
he had said, ' but never their instrument or their 
dupe.' On that weary way, a compassionate vine- 
dresser took pity on his limping condition, and 
lent him a horse. 

On the morning of April 8, 1794, when the 
jailor of the prison of Boufg-la-Eeine came to hand 
over the new prisoner to the gendarmes who had 
arrived to take him to Paris, the Marquis de 
Condorcet was found dead in his cell. With a 
powerful preparation of opium and stramonium 
prepared by his friend Cabanis, the celebrated 
physician, and which Condorcet had long carried 
about with him in his ring, he had ' cheated the 
guillotine.' It was remembered afterwards, that 
when he left the Suards' house, he had turned 
saying, ' If I have one night before me, I fear no 
man ; but I will not be taken to Paris.' 


That he who gave his life to the people should 
have defrauded them, as it were, of his death, 
strikes the one discord in the clear harmony of 
this true soul. 

Better that a Condorcet, like many a lesser 
man, should have mounted the guillotine as a king 
mounts his throne, proud to die for the cause for 
which he had lived, and hearing through the blas- 
phemy and the execrations of the rabble below, 
the far-off music of a free and happy people. 

For many months the woman who loved him 
had no news of his death. She hoped against 
hope that he had escaped, and was in safety in 
Switzerland. To support her little household she 
took a fine-linen shop in the Kue St. Honore, and 
in the entresol set up her little studio where she 
continued her portrait-painting. 

In January, 1794, for the good and safety of 
their child, she had heroically petitioned the 
municipality for a divorce from her husband, and 
obtained it — six weeks after his death. When the 
certain news of that death reached her, both her 
health and her strong heart faltered. But Doctor 
Cabanis, who afterwards married her young sister, 
saved her — for further effort and longer work. 

Full of courage and resignation she rose up 
again, wrote a preface to 'The Progress of the 
Human Mind,' educated her child, and when in 1795 


some of her fortune was restored, immediately 
began paying the pensions which d'Alembert had 
asked Condorcet to give his old servants. 

In later days she had a little salon in Paris, 
saw her daughter happily married, and died in 
1822. In every stupendous change which France 
experienced between the fall of Eobespierre and 
the death of Napoleon Bonaparte, she remained 
faithful to the principles to which her husband 
had devoted his genius and his life. 

Through all, the Marquise de Condorcet had 
been, and had counted herself, a happy woman. 
Wrung with such sorrows as do not fall to the lot 
of many of her sex, she had had a blessing which is 
the portion of far fewer of them ; she had inspired 
a great devotion, and had been worthy of it. 

To Condorcet is meted now in some sort the 
same judgment as was meted to him in life. 

Since he never gave himself blindly to any 
one faction, all factions have distrusted and 
condemned him. To the Eoyalist he is a Eevolu- 
tionist ; to the Eevolutionist he is an aristocrat. 
The thinker cannot forgive him that his thought 
led him to deeds and words ; the man of action 
cannot forget that he was thinker and dreamer to 
the end. While the Church can never pardon 
his persistent hostility to theology, his vehement 
opposition to Eoman Catholicism, as the religion 


' where a few rogues make many dupes,' the 
unbeliever is impatient with his serene faith in 
human kind, his unshattered trust in the good- 
ness, not of God, but of man. 

Far in advance of his time — in some respects 
of our time too — in his views on the rights of men 
and of women, on the education of children, and 
in his steady abhorrence of all limitation of what 
Voltaire called ' the noble liberty of thinking,' he 
is still condemned for an unpractical idealism, and 
for his passionate conviction that all errors are the 
fruit of bad laws. 

But he at least stands out clearly to any im- 
partial observer as one of the very few whose 
lofty disinterestedness came un scorched through 
the fire of the Terror. 

In private life, stern to duty and yet tenderer 
than any woman in his quiet, deep affections, patient 
and strong with the fine endurance of steel and 
with the capacity (that capacity which is as rare 
as genius) for the highest form of human love, 
he showed a great character beside which even his 
great intellect seems a small thing and a mean. 

In the breadth and the generosity of his self- 
sacrifice for the public good, he remains for ever 
one of the noblest, not only of the Friends of 
Voltaire, but of the sons of France. 


'Advance, The, of the Mind of 
Man ' (Turgot), 208 

♦ Advantages, The, of Christianity ' 

(Turgot), 208 

' Advice of a Proscribed Father, 
The ' (Condorcet), 291 

Aine, Madame d', 54, 123, 131, 
132, 136 

Alembert, Jean Lerond d', 45, 47, 
72, 124-5, 133, 136, 199, 213, 269, 
271, 275 ; birth and parentage, 2- 
4 ; at Madame Kousseau's, 4-6 ; 
education, 6-8 ; mathematical 
studies, 8-9 ; publishes ' Treatise 
on Dynamics ' and • Theory of 
Winds,' 10 ; death of his mother, 
10; acquaintance with Diderot, 
11 ; writes ' Preface ' to Encyclo- 
psedia, 12-13 ; offered Presidency 
of Berlin Academy, 13-14; 
member of the French Academy, 
14 ; visits Voltaire, 15 ; writes 
• Geneva,' 15-16 ; retires from 
EncyclopaBdia, 16-17 ; publishes 
'Elements of Philosophy,' 17; 
visits Berlin, 18 ; his attach- 
ment to Mile, de Lespinasse, 
18-23 ; their salon, 23-24 ; pub- 
lishes * History of the Destruc- 
tion of the Jesuits,' 25 ; second 
visit to Voltaire, 25-26; made 
Perpetual Secretary of Academy, 
26 ; illness and death of Mile, 
de Lespinasse, 27-28 ; his un- 
happiness and death, 29-30 ; 
his work and character, 30-31 

* Appeal to the French Citizens ' 

(Condorcet), 284-5 
Argental, Comte d', 113 
Artois, Comte d', 253, 262 

' Banise ' (Grimm), 152 

♦Barber of Seville, The' (Beau- 

marchais), 247-50, 261-2 
Beaumarchais, Caron de, birth and 
early life, 236-7 ; first marriage, 
238 ; at Court, 238-40 ; visits 
Spain, 240-1 ; produces ' Eu- 
genie,' 241 ; second marriage, 
241-2; the Goezman lawsuit 
and 'Memoirs,' 243-6; acts as 
secret agent, 246-7 ; produces 
'Barber of Seville,' 247-50; 
edits Voltaire's Works, 250 ; 
various employments, 251 ; ad- 
vertises ' Figaro,' 252 ; produces 
it at Gennevilliers, 253-4 ; and 
at the Com^die, 254-60; im- 
prisoned in St. Lazare, 261 ; sees 
' Barber of Seville ' at Trianon, 
261-2 ; quarrels with Mirabeau, 
263 ; third marriage, 263 ; his 
part in the Revolution, 263-6; 
produces ' Guilty Mother,' 266 ; 
death and character, 266-7 
Beaumarchais, Madame (Mme. 

Francquet), 237-8 
Beaumarchais, Madame (Mme. 

L6v6que)» 241-2 
Beaumarchais, Madame (Mile. 

Willermaula), 263, 266 
Beaumarchais, Mademoiselle Eu- 
genie, 263, 266 
Bergasse (lawyer), 263 
Bernis, Cardinal de, 33, 269 
Blache, Comte de la, 243, 244 
' Blind, Letter on the ' (Diderot), 

Brienne,Lom6nie de, 208, 209, 210 
Bueil, Comtesse de, 172, 173, 174 
Buffon, Comte de, 127, 200 



Cabanis, Doctor, 204, 295, 296 

Catherine the Great, 18, 56-8, 158, 
168-70, 171, 174 

Charles Edward Stuart, Prince, 

Chatelet, Madame du, 42, 180 

Chaulnes, Due de, 243 

Choiseul, Due de, 69, 70, 73, 83 

' Christianity Unveiled ' (d'Hol- 
bach), 140-1 

Cic^, Abb6 de, 208, 209, 224 

Clavijo, 240-1 

' Clergy, The Mind of the ' 
(d'Holbach), 141 

'Commentary on Horace' (Gali- 
ani), 73, 94 

' Commentary on Pascal ' (Con- 
dorcet), 272 

Condorcet, Mademoiselle de, 277, 

Condorcet, Marquis de, 24, 25, 29, 
30, 196, 199, 221-2 ; his position 
and birth, 268 ; education, 269- 
270 ; character, 270-1 ; visits 
Voltaire, 271-2 ; made Secre- 
tary of Academy of Sciences, 
272-3 ; work with Turgot, 274 ; 
member of French Academy, 
275 ; marriage, 275 - 7 ; as 
Women's Eights champion, 277 ; 
as a politician, 278-9 ; at the 
trial of Louis XVI., 280-3 ; 
writes ' Appeal ' and is pro- 
scribed, 284-6 ; in hiding, 286- 
292 ; writes ♦ Progress of Human 
Mind,' &c., 289-91 ; his wander- 
ings, 292-5; arrest and death, 
295 ; work and character, 297-8 

Condorcet, Marquise de (Mile, de 
Grouchy), 275-7, 285-6, 287-8, 
289, 296-7 

' Corn Trade, Dialogues on the ' 
(Galiani), 62, 68, 86-90, 226 

'Corn Trade, Letters on the' 
(Turgot), 226 

' Counsels to a Young Man ' 
(Vauvenargues), 103, 111 

Daubini£:re, Madame, 85, 93 
Dazincourt (actor), 255, 261 
Deffand, Madame du, 18-19, 195 
Destouches, General, 3, 4, 6 

* Destruction of the Jesuits, History 

of the ' (d'Alembert), 25, 133 
Diderot, Ang61ique. See Vandeul, 

Mme. de 
Diderot, Denis, 11, 17, 30, 88, 125, 
128, 130, 131, 138, 143, 163, 165, 
168, 170, 191-2, 199, 202 ; educa- 
tion, 32-3; early life in Paris, 
34-6 ; marriage, 37-8 ; episode 
of Mme. Puisieux, 39 ; writes 
' Essay on Merit and Virtue ' 
and ' Philosophical Thoughts,' 
39 ; birth of his daughter, 40 ; 
writes ' Letter on the Blind,' 
41 ; prisoner in Vincennes, 42-3 ; 
works at Encyclopasdia, 43-8 ; 

j miscellaneous labours, 49-51 ; 
episode of Mile. Volland, 51 ; 

I visits salons, 52-3 ; visits Grand- 

: val, 53-6 ; produces plays, 56 ; 

i visits Catherine the Great, 56-8 ; 

i sees Voltaire, 58-9 ; illness and 

j death, 60-1 ; estimate of his 

I work and character, 61 
Diderot, Madame (Mile. Anne 
Toinette Champion), 36-9, 40-1, 
51, 60-1 

* Dynamics, Treatise on ' (d'Alem- 

bert), 10 

I 'Elements of Philosophy' 

(d'Alembert), 17, 72 
Encyclopaedia, The, 11-13, 14, 

15-17, 43-8, 56, 121, 133, 150, 

' Epinay, Correspondence with 

Madame d' (Galiani), 68 
Epinay (Madame d'), 52-3, 79-80, 

93, 125, 163-7, 172 
' Eugenie ' (Beaumarchais), 241 
' Existence ' (Turgot), 133, 213 

* Fame and Pleasure, Discourses 

on ' (Vauvenargues), 103 
'Father of the Family, The' 

(Diderot). 56 
Fel, Mademoiselle (opera dancer), 

150-1, 166 

* Figaro, The Marriage of ' (Beau- 

marchais), 252-60 
Franklin, Benjamin, 129-30, 204 



Frederick the Great, 10, 13-14, 
17-18, 88, 144, 156, 158, 167-8, 
202 , 
Fr6ron, Elie (journalist), 88 
Frise, or Frisen, Comte de, 153, 

tion, 172-3 ; last years and 
death, 174-5 ; his mission, 175 
Guilty Mother, The' (Beau- 
marchais), 264, 26G 

Galiani, Abbe, 125, 130, 135-6, 
144, 148 ; his characteristics, 
62-3 ; birth and education, 
63-4 ; at the Academy of Naples, 
64-5 ; literary work, 65 ; reli- 
gion, 66 ; posts and pensions, 
67-8 ; appointed Secretary in 
Paris, 68-9 ; his reception there, 
70-1 ; his popularity, 71-3 ; as 
a conversationalist, 73-4 ; at the 
salons, 74-80; his wit, 81-2; 
his work, 82-3 ; visits London, 
83-4 ; recalled to Naples, 84-6 ; 
publishes 'Dialogues on Corn 
Trade,' 86-7 ; its reception, 
87-90; life at Naples, , 90-3 ; 
friendship with Mnie. d'Epinay, 
93 ; illness and death, 94-5 ; 
his mission, 95 
Galiani, Bernard, 63-4, 92 
Galiani, Celestin, 63-4, 67 
Garrick, David, 55, 56, 129 
' Geneva ' (d'Alembert), 15-16, 

Geoffrin, Madame, 52, 66, 74-5, 

' Goezman Memoirs ' {Beaumar- 

chais), 241, 243-6 
' Good Sense ' (d'Holbach), 147 
Graffigny, Madame de, 183-4, 

Grimm, Melchior, 49, 52-3, 58, 
71, 79, 88, 125, 130, 144-5 ; his 
love affair with Mile. Fel, 
150-1; birth and early life, 
151-2; character, 152-4; life 
in Paris, 154-5 ; his ' Literary 
Correspondence,' 156-63 ; his 
attachment to Mme. d'Epinay, 
163-6; visits Geneva, 166-7; 
and Frederick the Great, 167-8 ; 
and England, 168; and i^e 
Eussian Court, 168-70; corre- 
sponds with Catherine the Great, 
171 ; his conduct in the Revolu- 

' Happiness ' (Helvetius), 180, 204 

Helvetius, Claude Adrien, 91, 127, 
212 ; his family and education, 
176-8; life in Paris, 178-9; 
visits Voltaire, 180; relations 
with Montesquieu, 181 ; his 
charities, 182 ; assists Prince 
Charles Edward, 182-3; meets 
and marries Mile, de Ligni- 
ville, 183-5 ; his hfe and good 
works at Vor6, 185-92; his 
book 'On the Mind,' 192-4; 
effects of its publication, 195-9 ; 
his salofi in Paris, 199-200 ; 
visits England, 201-2 ; and 
Frederick the Great, 202 ; his 
book ' On Man,' 202-3 ; declin- 
ing years, 203 ; death, 204 ; his 
work and position, 204-5 

Helvetius, Madame (Mile, de 
Ligniville), 183-92, 197, 199- 
200, 203-4, 212 

Holbach, Baron d', 53, 55, 56, 
76-7, 155 ; his position in the 
eighteenth century, 118 ; and 
among Voltaire's friends, 119 ; 
early life, 120-1 ; marriage, 121 ; 
salon in the Kue Royale, 121-2 ; 
life and society at Grandval, 
122-138; visit to England, 
138-9 ; opinion of the English, 
139-40 ; publishes * Christianity 
Unveiled,' 140-1; and 'The 
System of Nature,' 141-4 ; its 
reception, 144-5 ; its philo- 
sophy, 145-6; publishes other 
books, 147 ; his last years and 
death, 148-9 ; his character in 
contrast to his book, 149 

Holbach, Madame d', 121, 123, 131, 

Hope (Pke Hoop), 123-4, 130 

Houdetot, Madame d', 125-6, 

Hume, David, 55, 56, 83, 128, 182, 
200, 201 



'Imaginary Socrates, The' 

(Galiani), 92 
• Instincts and Habitual Tastes of 

Man, The ' (Galiani), 92 
' Integral Calculus, Essay on ' 

(Condorcet), 269-70 
' Introduction to the Knowledge of 

the Human Mind' (Vauven- 

argues), 111 

'Junius, Letter of, to William 
Pitt ' (Condorcet), 290-1 

' Justice and Virtue, Letter on ' 
(Condorcet), 269 

'Justification, The' (Condorcet), 
288, 289 

La Harpb, Jean FranQois de, 156, 

Le Breton (publisher), 43, 48 
Lespinasse, Mademoiselle de, 18- 

24, 27-28 
* Literary Correspondence, The ' 

(Grimm and Diderot), 49, 63, 

79, 150, 156-63, 170 
Louis XV., 16-17, 69, 70, 83, 237, 

239, 242, 246 
Louis XVI., 224, 225, 226, 227, 

228-9, 231-2, 233, 252-3, 260-1, 

278, 280-3 
Louis XVIII., 231 

Malesheebes, 195, 231-2 

' Man, On ' (Helv6tius), 202-3, 204 

Marie Antoinette, 225, 230-1, 232, 

233, 245, 246, 253, 261-2, 274-5 
Marmontel, Jean Francois, 112, 

113, 127 
Maurepas, Comte de, 224, 225, 

226, 231 
' Meditation on Faith ' (Vauven- 

argues), 103, 109, 111 
Meister (Grimm's helper), 163, 170 
•Merit and Virtue, Essay on' 

(Diderot), 39 
' Mind, On the ' (Helvaius), 127, 

193-9, 202-3, 204-5 
Mirabeau, Gabriel Honors, Comte 

de, 263 
Mirabeau, Victor Eiquetti, Marquis 

de, 97-8, 100-1 

UoU (actor), 255 
Molin, Doctor, 4, 11 
• Money, Essay on ' (Galiani), 65, 67 
Montesquieu, 181 
Morellet, Abbe, 88-9, 125, 199-200, 
208, 210 

•Natural Son, The ' (Diderot), 56, 

Necker (Jacques), 75-6, 227-8, 274 
Necker (Madame), 52, 75-6 

' Paper Money, Letter on ' (Tur- 

got), 208 
Paris-Duverney (financier), 240, 

241, 243 
' Philosophical Thoughts, The ' 

(Diderot), 39, 41 
'Physical Degradation of the 

Eoyal Races, Essay on the ' 

(Condorcet), 291 
' PoUsh Exile, Letter of a ' (Con- 
dorcet), 291 
Pompadour, Madame de, 155, 178 
Por6e, P^re, 177 
'Portable Theology' (d'Holbach), 

•Preface, The' (d'Alembert), 12, 

13, 31, 45 
•Priests Unmasked' (d'Holbach), 

'Progress of the Human Mind, 

History of the' (Condorcet), 

289-90, 291, 296 
' Prophet, The Little, of Boehmisch- 

broda ' (Grimm), 155 
Puisieux, Madame, 39-40, 43 

' Eameau's Nephew ' (Diderot), 61 
Baynal, Abbe, 127, 129, 151, 156, 

• Reflections ' (Vauvenargues), 111 
Rousseau, Jean Jacques, 16, 43, 

47, 126-7, 128, 133, 151, 154, 

164-6, 196, 199 
Rousseau, Madame, 5-6 

Saint-Lambert, Marquis de, 72, 
126, 164-5 



Sarret, 287, 292 

Saxe-Gotha, Duchess of, 153, 156, 
158, 167 

* Seneca, Life of ' (Diderot), 53 

* Social System, The' (d'Holbach), 

Sterne, Laurence, 55, 56, 85, 128 
Suard, J. B., 156, 293-4 
Suard, Madame, 293-4 

* System of Nature, The ' (d'Hol- 

bach), 141-7, 149 

* Taeabe ' (Beaumarchais), 263 

Tencin, Madame de, 3-4, 6, 10-11, 

Tercier (press censor), 194, 197 

Terrai, Abb6, 225 

' Theory of Winds, Treatise on the ' 
(d'Alembert), 10 

Theriot, 156 

Turgot, Anne Eobert Jacques, 89- 
90, 125, 133, 136, 184, 195-6, 
204, 273-4, 275 ; his character 
and work, 206-7; birth and 
education, 207-8; at the Sor- 
bonne, 208-10; at Madame de 
Graffigny's, 211-12 ; visits Vol- 
taire, 213-14; as Intendant of 
Limoges, 214-24 ; Minister 
of Marine, 224-5; Controller- 
General, 225-32 ; his dismissal, 
232-3 ; last years and death, 
233-4 ; position among Vol- 
taire's friends, 235 

' Turgot, Life of ' (Condorcet), 221- 
222, 275 

Universal Morality ' (d'Holbach), 

Vandeul, Madame de (Ang61ique 
Diderot),.40-1, 57, 59, 60 

Vaudreuil, Comte de, 253, 261 

Vauvenargues, Luc de Clapiers, 
Marquis de, character of his 
writing, 96; birth and educa- 
tion, 97-8 ; as a soldier, 98-100 ; 
campaign in Bohemia, 101-2 ; 
invalided, 103-4 ; friendship 
with Voltaire, 104-7 ; settles in 
Paris, 107-8; his philosophy, 
108-11; his book, 111-13; 
friends in Paris, 113-14 ; illness 
and death, 115-17 

Vergniaud, Pierre, 221, 288 

Vernet, Madame, 286, 287, 289, 
291, 292, 294 

VoUand, Mademoiselle, 51, 52, 54, 

' VoUand, Letters to Mademoiselle ' 
(Diderot), 54, 61, 130, 138 

Voltaire, Arouet de, 1, 17, 62, 96-7, 
225-6, 233, 250, 260; visited 
by d'Alembert, 15, 25-6 ; friend- 
ship with Diderot, 41-2, 55, 58-9 ; 
opinion of Galiani's ' Dialogues,' 
87 ; friendship with Vauven- 
argues, 104-7, 113-14 ; opinion 
of Vauvenargues' ' Maxims,' 
112-13 ; of d'Holbach's ' System 
of Nature,' 144, 146; and of 
Grimm's ' Little Prophet,' 155 ; 
visited by Grimm and Mme. 
d'Epinay, 166; friendship with 
Helv^tius, 179-80; opinion of 
his book 'On the Mind,' 196, 
198-9 ; visited by Turgot, 213- 
214, 234 ; opinion of Beaumar- 
chais, 242 ; and of the * Goezman 
Memoirs,' 245 ; visited by Con- 
dorcet, 271-2 

Walpole, Horace, 129, 135 
* Wealth, Eeflections on the Refor- 
mation and Distribution [ of ' 
(Turgot), 222 
Wilkes, John, 55, 56, 129, 247 

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